SOFX in partnership with Shephard Media is pleased to present an exclusive from the Jul-Aug issue of Special Operations Forum.
Colonel Nicholas P. Vavich, Commanding Officer, Marine Raider Support Group, spoke to Scott R. Gourley about his unit’s role in sustaining worldwide special operations.
In a return to tradition, the US Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) has recently completed a redesignation of its components in honor of the Marine Raider units of the Second World War.
Four Marine Raider battalions and two Raider regiments were formed and saw action in the Pacific Theater between 1942 and 1944. The Raider battalions were one of the first modern US special operations units.
From the establishment of MARSOC Detachment One in 2003, SOF Marines have used the Raider insignia in their unit emblems and it has become both a linkage to Marine Corps identity and a source of unit pride.
The Command has re-designated its three subordinate elements as the Marine Raider Regiment, the Marine Raider Training Center and the Marine Raider Support Group (MRSG).
As the Commanding Officer of MRSG, Colonel Nicholas Vavich leads an organization that is responsible for sustaining worldwide special operations missions as directed by Commander, US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (COMMARFORSOC).
“The Marine Raiders Support Group (MRSG) is one of three subordinate commands to MARSOC, right next to the Marine Raider Regiment and the Marine Raider Training Center,” Vavich explained. “And essentially, we provide tailored intelligence, communications, logistics, canine and fires capabilities to the reinforced Marine special operations companies.”
Focusing on “the operational side” of the organization, Vavich said his group consists of three Marine Raider support battalions “that cover down on the intel, communications and logistics capabilities,” with canine and fires specialists located at the group level.
Vavich, who previously served with MARSOC in the 2007-2010 timeframe, observed that the Command “has evolved and matured significantly in the seven years since I last left it.”
In terms of specific training within MRSG, he offered the example of the Multi-Discipline Intelligence Operator Course: “It takes all of the ‘ints,’ if you will and cross-trains operators across each one of them, making them aware of each other’s skill sets and how they can assist each other in their overall mission.”
Vavich said that MARSOC is currently exploring the possibility of creating a SOCS logistician specialist designation.
“That’s because most of our logisticians, actually, are probably the most multidisciplinary of all of our Marines that are inside of MRSG.” he said.
Asked about evolutionary changes he might envision within MRSG over a three-, five- and ten-year timeframe, Vavich began by asserting that “everything is evolutionary,” from “micro” to “Darwinian.”
“One of the things that we’re going to do in the short term is to consolidate and expand the SOCS pipeline. As part of that we’re now getting the recruiting team onboard to look beyond just our critical skills operators and our special operations officers; then tie them into the flowing of the MCSOC with the MARSOC Combat Support Orientation Course.”
Vavich noted that another evolutionary change under way involves a study of current individual training and standards. “To our [MSOC] companies we provide what is called the Marine Raiders Support Team,” he explained.
Emphasizing that MCSOC is currently open only to combat support and CSS Marines, he said they were looking for team players, who have demonstrated maturity, mental and physical fitness, and have both physical as well as ethical courage.
“We put them through a series of physical, mental and intellectual episodes throughout the course of the five-day MCSOC. And what we want to do is make sure that the Marines really want to be there.”
Vavich identified a longer-term goal that involves using MRSG as something of “a bridging Command” between MARSOC and the larger Marine Corps. “I think we’re ideally suited for this,” he said, pointing to an interdependence, interoperability and integration partnership called I3.
“The MCSOC is a great touch point for that,” he asserted. “And all of our Marines that are coming over as SOCS… will go back and become reintegrated into the larger Marine Corps. They will take the skills that they learn here through their training pipeline back to their units in the Marine Corps.”
Asked whether that bridging Command philosophy also applied to the broader SOF community outside of the USMC, Vavich acknowledged “Our connection will be more with the combat support and combat service support elements of each of our sister SOF services,” he said.
Vavich said that MRSG currently has all the hardware and systems to perform its critical roles, with one caveat.
“One of SOF’s roles within DoD is to essentially be a testbed for future equipment. So as equipment is being looked at, and as our operational needs direct, we have in the past, essentially been a development center for certain capabilities.”
Shifting to the geographic realities of the MARSOC mission set, Vavich was asked about any unique challenges that might be presented in the Pacific region.
“I can’t go into details, obviously, but… you know the tyranny of distances and the Pacific. But again, that’s why SOF, and almost all of the services, have forward-deployed elements, especially in places like Japan, Okinawa, Korea.
“Within MARSOC, we’re largely regionally aligned, principally with AFRICOM [US Africa Command], CENTCOM [US Central Command], and PACOM [US Pacific Command]. And I will tell you that in the support battalions underneath MRSG we tailor our training specifically to the region that we’re deploying to.”
He quickly added that, balanced against the regional focus, is a strong emphasis on standardization across the regiment.
Coming full circle, Vavich returned to the recent Raider redesignation and rebranding.
“First and foremost, we’re all Marines,” he said. “And within MARSOC, we’re all Raiders. So, if anything, I would say the rebranding, if you will, back to Raiders has done nothing more than to really coalesce all the Marines within MARSOC around the central idea that we are all akin and that we’re all brothers and sisters in arms.
“Through and through you’ll see a common Marine linkage,” he concluded. “We are first and foremost United States Marines.”
For more, see the Sep-Oct issue of SOF magazine.