United States Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance

Posted by David Burnell on

United States Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance detachments, or FORECON, units are special-purposes units roughly analogous to the U.S. Army Special Forces and are widely recognized as the "special operations forces" of the United States Marine Corps. Marine Force Recon personnel, or "operators", operate in deep reconnaissance, direct action, and the control of supporting arms; to convey military intelligence beyond the means of a commander's area of influence in the battlefield. They are capable of operating independently in combined methods of amphibious and ground operations by utilizing methods of conventional and unconventional warfare.

The FORECON detachments are one of the two Marine Reconnaissance units assigned to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. The Marine Recon Battalions support the Ground Combat Element, while FORECON supports the Command Element.

After the creation of MARSOC, 1st and 2nd FORECON were converted to Marine Special Operations Battalion (MSOB) units reporting to United States Special Operations Command.


Reconnaissance forces are a valuable asset to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force when the MEF Commander is faced with uncertainty in the battlefield. Reconnaissance provides timely intelligence to Command for battlespace shaping, allowing the MAGTF to act, and react, to changes in the battlefield. As other Special Operations Forces are tasked by and report to USSOCOM, Marine Reconnaissance Units are reserved for supporting the Marine Infantry that are directly involved in battlespace shaping.

However, Force Reconnaissance troops are employed far beyond the battlefield, the 'Area of Interest', while the Division's Recon Marines are tasked within the boundaries of the Commander's 'Area of Influence'. Both 'elite' Marine Reconnaissance units thus differ by the depth of penetration.

Many of the types of reconnaissance missions that are conducted by Marine Recon units are characterized by deep penetrations. This greatly increases the mission time, risk, and support coordination needs. Marine Recon Battalions are in charge of Close and Distant Reconnaissance, whereas Deep Reconnaissance is normally done by Force Reconnaissance. They however both utilize these two separate and distinct missions: 1) reconnaissance and 2) direct action, both in terms of special entry. During the outset of the Vietnam War, they were known as "Key Hole" and "Sting Ray" operations. The versatility of FORECON is demonstrated when missions quickly turn, planned or not, from a deep reconnaissance operation to a direct action operation.

Green Side

Tasks characterized as 'deep reconnaissance' by FORECON are known as "green side" operations. These operations are missions pertaining to deep preassault/postassault reconnaissance. Force Recon Marines collect any intelligence of military importance, observe, identify and report adversaries to MAGTF. They may also be tasked in battle damage assessment (BDA) missions. Green operations may consist of hydrography, beach, routes, and urban area recon. They may initiate terminal guidance in landing and drop zones for heliborne, airborne, or waterborne operations, to include forward operating sites for aircraft. They may collect tactical imagery, as well in placing or recovering remote sensors and beacons. Silence and stealth are vital to reduce chances of mission compromise from contact with the enemy. Secrecy enables uninterrupted ground reconnaissance, amphibious reconnaissance and forward observing.

Black Side

Black Side missions are known as direct action, or DA missions. Black Side operations are the flip side to Green Side missions. Examples are seizures of gas/oil platform (GOPLAT) and the visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) of ships in Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO). Orchestrating Close Air Support is a vital skill exercised in DA missions, where Recon units will observe from static positions and spider holes. They also provide Personal Security Detail (PSD) for critically important personnel, and perform In-Extremis Hostage Rescue.


The origins of Force Recon can be considered to be many of Marine Corps' own variants of 'special operations forces', historically known as the Marine Raiders, Paramarines and the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion during the outset of World War II.

The United States Marine Corps, who been known for theorizing and practicing the United States methods of amphibious tactics, had introduced a new concept in amphibious warfare. They sought a 'specialized' team capable of:

  • Acting as an advance guard
  • Spearheading a larger landing force
  • Seize and hold strategic installations or terrain
  • Operate independently for extended periods
  • Confuse and surprise the enemy in raiding parties

Waterborne sabotage

In 1933, the Marine Raiders were the result. Around this time, the practice of combatant diving became the cornerstone of amphibious reconnaissance. During World War II and the Korean War, they developed methods of locking in and out of submarine torpedo bays and using bouyance floats to ascend the surface or use of SCUBA equipment that remains in effect today.

But soon after, the Marine Corps was still in need of a quick reaction force that could be inserted efficiently and without detection by the enemy. Since the Marine Corps has its own aviation, use of paratroopers became an important role later years. In the summer of 1940, a paratrooper unit was envisioned by HQMC, the Paramarines. It did not come unnoticed as the United States Navy adopted the same philosophy and formed it into the training plan of their famed Underwater Demolition Teams.

The Marine Raiders and Paramarines did not survive after World War II as Fleet Marine Force "organizations", a belief held by many senior Marines that the Marine Infantry was capable of carrying out the same missions, as every Marine is trained as a combative fighting force. Finally, by the authority of the Marine Commandant BGen. Vandegrift, it was decided that having a unit within the Corps as an "'Elite' of the elite" was not acceptable to the Marine Corps' demeanor. This led to its disbandment in 1944, before World War II ended.


Entrance in to FORECON is an extensive and demanding process in which Marines will attend the selection process known as the Reconnaissance Indoctrination and Screening. Marines from any other Reconnaissance unit still must undergo screening as there are no other exceptions into Force Reconnaissance. As there are Marine Officers in the command element of the Force Recon Companies, it is unlikely for an officer to be inserted with a Force Recon team as they are reserved as the supporting commander; officers within the Maritime Special Purpose Force, accept deployment of commissioned officers on limited scale raids during DA missions.

  • In order for Marines to be accepted for the 'Indoc', they must require:
  • Current physical
  • GT score of 105
  • First-Class Physical Fitness Test of 275 or higher
  • CWS-1 swim qualification
  • 20/20 vision; with minimum correction allowed
  • Laser-eye surgery is acceptable as long as 20/20 is achieved.
  • Normal color vision
  • Must be able to contrast between red and green
  • Good personal evaluations
  • Security clearance required

The 48-hour Reconnaissance Indoctrination and Screening is held on the last Thursday of each month at either Camp Pendleton, CA or Camp Lejuene, NC, as each unit uses different selection processes. In general, the screening begins with a standard physical fitness test, a three mile run, stomach crunches and chin-ups. Marine candidates must obtain a First Class score of 285 or higher to continue the Indoc.

Because Marines are amphibious by nature, the candidates will proceed to the pool next where they will perform water aerobics and underwater push ups while wearing boots and uniform. Candidates are required to swim to the bottom of a pool with a depth of twenty-five feet to retrieve a ten pound concrete block, used to simulate a magazine-fed weapon. Then candidates must carry the block to the surface and swim with it to the a designated spot. Next, candidates tread water for thirty minutes with a rubber rifle, called a "rubber duck," held above their head.

The candidates then run the Obstacle Course, or "O" Course, a few times on the next day. The candidates are evaluated on their effort and method of attempt, instead of how fast they finish the course. After the "O" Course, candidates perform a timed eight mile "Ruck Run," which requires candidates to carry a rucksack containing a fifty pound sand bag and a "rubber duck." Candidates must maintain a pace of four to five miles per hour. Failure to maintain this pace results in the candidate being returned to their original unit. Any candidate may voluntarily dropout at any time during the screening process and retake the test later. Multiple screening attempts are common before succeeding.

Candidates who pass the physical tests are given a psychological screening test and an interview. Officers are interviewed by the Company Commander. Enlisted Marines are interviewed by the Company Sergeant Major and other Senior NCOs

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