The MARSOC Raiders conduct missions that are slightly different from other units. Despite they are not designated as a Tier 1 unit, they are still a significant fighting force in the U.S. Military arsenal. In fact, Marine Raiders is a hybrid between Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs, and Marine Force Reconnaissance. Their primary missions are Foreign Internal Defense, Counter-Insurgency Warfare (Green Berets), Direct Action (Rangers), Maritime Interdiction (SEALs), and Long Range Strategic Reconnaissance (Force Reconnaissance).
Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) is the most recent unit to join the Special Operations Command community. In my opinion, they are primarily a go-between the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and the Special Forces Groups (Green Berets). Their primary roles are for Direct Action, Special Reconnaissance, Foreign Internal Defense, Counter Insurgency/Terrorism, HVT hunts, and Maritime Interdiction operations.
The other thing that is important to note is that the biggest reason the Marine Corps was not a part of the SOCOM community is that the hierarchy within the Marine Corps didn’t believe that they needed to be as every Marine Corps unit is capable of being a highly effective DA, reconnaissance capable fighting force. The Marine Corps didn’t want those units being directed or commanded to do things that weren’t Marine Corps specific.
MARSOC Raiders vs Force Recon
In short, Marine Force Recon (FORECON) is just that – Reconnaissance for the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). They are trained to conduct deep reconnaissance, deeper than the Marine Division Recon Battalion, which belongs to the division. They are also trained in some direct action, close-quarters combat, breaching, etc, and have special insertion and extraction skills (static-line parachuting, freefall, SCUBA, etc).
Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) are trained extensively in all the above but also with foreign internal defense (FID), unconventional warfare, and a host of additional skills to include cultural intelligence and foreign language(s). MARSOC belongs to US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and is funded in part by SOCOM while FoRecon belongs to the MEF and is funded by the USMC.
An apple tree to apple tree comparison would be MARSOC to NSWC and an apples to apple comparison – Navy SEALS to Marine Raiders. The orchard is USSOCOM. Marine Raiders are commanded by MARSOC and Navy SEALs are commanded by NSWC. MARSOC and NSWC are component commands of the unified SOCOM (Special Operations Command).
USSOCOM is the United States Forces’ functional combatant command for all Special Operations Forces (SOF).
JSOC is a better-known command as its concern is Elite Special Forces, the special missions units (SMUs) like DEVGRU (SEAL Team 6) and CAG (Delta ) focused on counter-terrorism ops like the “capture or kill” Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
When the initial teams were stood up the Marine Corps drew from the Force Reconnaissance community almost exclusively so you got a special group of Marines who were the best in the business when it comes to Reconnaissance and DA skills that rival the SEALS.
SEALs focus more on naval combat, i.e. ship boarding, oil rig capturing, and the like. MARSOC is a more amphibious/land oriented unit, and their job can include anything from deep reconnaissance to oceanic topography to raids. Really, a lot of the SOUs overlap in the broad mission so just the really minute things stand out.
MARSOC Raiders vs Green Berets
Initially, there was a huge push back by other units within SOCOM specifically Green Berets who felt the Raiders were invading their exclusive domain. It’s said the commanding general of the JFK Special Warfare School told the first Marines to go through the Q Course that he would rather burn his Beret and Tab then ever let a Marine earn either. Now they recruit from across the Marine Corps and they aren’t quite the red-headed stepchildren.
MARSOC has a very wide mission profile with very many capabilities. It’s the Marine’s ENTIRE special operations community, whereas the Army has several other units, only one of which are the “Green Berets” (Special Forces).
Generally, the primary role of MARSOC is Direct Action and Special Reconnaissance, similar to Navy SEALs. They also have some military advising and unconventional warfare capabilities.
The role of Special Forces (“Green Berets”) is primarily military advising and unconventional warfare- A team goes into a foreign country to recruit, train, and lead a local militia. They also have direct action and special reconnaissance capabilities, though those are secondary roles.
So the primary difference in mission profile is that Special Forces are primarily advisers with secondary direct action capability, whereas MARSOC is primarily direct action forces with secondary advising capability.
Special Forces are the go-to unit for advising, and MARSOC would only likely be selected for situations in which they specialize, for example, in advising amphibious forces.
Since 2006 the Marine Raider Regiment had built a reputation worthy of their lineage. They had bumps along the way but most Special Operations units do in their infancy. Since then they have been deployed around the world and have been conducting missions we will never hear or learn about. In Afghanistan, they were there conducting mostly DA missions, almost 90 percent of the total in-country, and Counter-Insurgency roles. I would recommend reading Michael Golembesky’s books about a MARSOC team in Bala Murghab for a better description.
MARSOC pulls its candidates from 3–4 year seasoned Marines. Most of the candidates have already been deployed and many have actually seen combat. Most of the Critical Skill Operators are seasoned marines coming from Infantry battalions, Recon and Force Recon(initially they all came from Force Recon).
But to answer the question. Raiders don’t do anything that isn’t replicated by another SOCOM unit. However, this redundancy allows somewhere around 1500 operators to conduct missions that might not have been done or allow Ranger, Green Beret, Delta Force, or SEAL teams to have a longer downtime between deployments because they can operate instead.