Special Ops joint training at Camp Lejeune builds skills, camaraderie

Special Ops joint training at Camp Lejeune builds skills, camaraderie

Marine Special Operations School Individual Training Course students plan a mission during Field Training Exercise Raider Spirit recently at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. For the first time, U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Airmen spent three months in Marine Special Operations Command’s initial Marine Raider training pipeline, representing efforts to build joint mindsets across special operations forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy)

 By Rindi White

While the rivalry between the service branches is nothing new, a group of Marines and Air Force service members set their differences aside and worked side by side for three months, learning how to lead a joint ground force.

It was the first time in history that members from another service used the Marine Special Operations Command’s Individual Training Course, according to a report by Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Conroy, of the 24the Special Operations Wing, from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC.

Two U.S. Air Force Special Tactics officers assigned to the Special Tactics Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, completed the first phase of the Marine Raider’s training pipeline, which produces the U.S. Marine Corps’ elite special operations force, Conroy wrote.

The training course is typically a seven-month course designed to challenge trainees both physically and mentally, to produce Critical Skills Operators who can conduct special operations in small teams under austere conditions. The two airmen participated in phase one, which focuses on basic skills, including physical fitness, swimming, land navigation and mission planning.

The joint training effort represents a plan to build joint mindsets across special operations forces in the military.

“The only way to establish trust inside Special Operations Command is to train and operate together,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Brett Bourne, the MARSOC commander.

It was a headfirst introduction to special forces training for the two airmen. They had only recently been selected by Special Tactics to go through the two-year Special Tactics training program and become part of the Air Force’s ground special operations force. They had never been involved in this level of training before, Conroy wrote.

But they kept up with their peers throughout the course, Bourne said.

“At the tactical level, the not-so-distant future may find one of these young Special Tactics Offices controlling the battlespace for Marine Raiders deployed,” Bourne said. “At the enterprise level, one of these Special Tactics Officers may be the Aide de Camp to a Theater Special Operations command (SOCOM) or the Executive Officer to the SOCOM Commander. I predict that the operators from this course will serve together many times over in the future – Air Force and Marine Corps alike.”

In the three-month span, both airmen completed several special operations core tasks, from vessel navigation and scout swimming to small unit tactics and weapons marksmanship.

“Joint training like this is imperative to real-world mission success. This may be the first time we sent Special Tactics Officers to MARSOC’s initial training course, but we hope it won’t be the last,” said U.S. Air Force Major Joseph Gross, the Special Tactics Training School commander. The STTS builds special tactics operators for operational units.

“This sort of integration is part of our efforts within the Special Tactics training pipeline to develop Air Force ground force commanders, before these young officers become operational,” Gross added.

Special Tactics operators might conduct operations as a Special Tactics team or embed as a single operator working with Navy SEAL, Army Special Forces or Marine Raider teams. Special tactics is a ground special operations force that solves air and ground problems of various types, such as personnel recovery, global access and precision strike missions.

“The most enjoyable aspect of this training exchange was that the Air Force officers were indistinguishable from their Marine counterparts after the first day,” Bourne said. “They quickly established reputations for physical prowess and initiative, and they left a very strong marker for the superb assessment and selection program of the 24 SOW (Special Operations Wing).”

The end of Phase 1 of Raider training is an exercise called Raider Spirit, during which students must apply learned tactics, techniques and procedures, from mission planning to patrolling to tactical combat casualty care, all with little sleep and little time. After finishing, the airmen returned to their services two-year training pipeline with new skills, perspective and joint knowledge, Conroy wrote.

“Training like this isn’t just about making a better operator and leader on the battlefield; this cross training and integration is a part of a deliberate approach to develop our Special Tactics Officer corps,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Martin, commander of the 24th SOW, the Air Forces’ sole wing dedicated to Special Tactics forces.

“Trust, shared understanding and solidarity between sister services will pay dividends across the spectrum of conflict and crisis,” Martin continued.

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