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Last Updated: 16 April, 2016

This article is structured as follows:

  • Part 1: Background to the US Marine Corps’ Critical Skills Operator (CSO) and Special Operations Officer (SOO).
  • Part 2: Entry standards and applications.
  • Part 3: Outline of the US Marine Corps’ CSO and SOO selection and training.
  • Part 4: Miscellaneous.


1.0     Introduction

Logo, MARSOC, Marine Corps Force Special Operations Command, USMC, US, Special ForcesThis article provides an overview of the recruitment, selection and training process for the US Marine Corps’ Critical Skills Operators (CSO) and Special Operations Officers (SOO).

These Marine Commandos form the special operations element of the US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) Special Operations Forces (SOF) community, which is the marine/amphibious component of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

After proving themselves in special operations through the Marine Special Operations Command Detachment One, a pilot programme formed in June 2003 in response to a Special Operations need in Iraq and Afghanistan, the MARSOC branch of USSOCOM was established in February 2006.

Working in a “14-man Marine Special Operations Team” (Cuningham, 2013), the role of the US Marine Corps’ CSOs and SOOs is to provide Marine special operations acumen to core and secondary tasks, as such their role includes:

  • Foreign Internal Defence (FID);
  • Direct Action (DA);
  • Special Reconnaissance (SR) and Counter-Terrorism (CT);
  • The Secondary Core Task of Information Operations (IO); and
  • Tasks in Support of Unconventional Warfare (UW).

CSOs and SOOs are team-oriented, but able to function individually, and are capable of operations across the entire spectrum of special operations, from employment in isolated and austere locales with little-to-no conventional support to operations as fully integrated units in a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) or other Joint task organised configurations.

Consequently, CSOs and SOOs are experts in providing small lethal expeditionary teams for global special operations.

From boot camp to first deployment, a Critical Skills Operator or Special Operations Officer may undertake approximately one year of training.

“MarSOC currently consists of 625 critical skills operators, 32 teams and nine companies, but those numbers are expected to grow to 844 critical skills operators, 48 teams and 12 companies by 2016, according to information from MarSOC officials.” (Wilcox, 2012). By 2015 there were 858 CSOs and 169 SOOs (MARSOC, 2015a).

Since October 2011 and July 2014 respectively, enlisted and officer personnel have had their own military occupational specialty (MOS) designation, 0372 and 0370 (Sanborn, 2014; MARSOC, 2015b). CSOs and SOOs are now able to stay with MARSOC for the duration of their military career.

It must be emphasised that a candidate must be physically fit at the beginning of the Critical Skills Operator or Special Operations Officer training process if they are to stand any chance of success. The course requires far greater expenditure of physical energy than is normally required in other peace time training. It is essential that candidates arrive fully fit, carrying no injuries and with a sound grasp of basic navigation techniques.

1.1     Aim

The aim of this article is to describe the fundamental entry requirements, selection process and training for personnel seeking to become a US Marine Corps Critical Skills Operator or Special Operations Officer.

For information on the US Marine Corps’ Reconnaissance selection and training process look here.

1.2     Women and US Marine Corps Special Operations

Iraqi FreedomFrom January 2016, in accordance with current US Federal Government policy on the employment of women in the US military, service in the US Marine Corps’ SOF community is open to both male and female volunteers (Pellerin, 2015).

Women in the US military have, for a number of years, been able to serve in a variety of SOF-related roles, including:

  • Intelligence;
  • Military information support;
  • Civil affairs units;
  • Female engagement teams;
  • Cultural support teams; and
  • Air Force special operations aviation roles.

As of March 2015, approximately two-thirds of the roles in USSOCOM were integrated (Vogel, 2015).

In January 2016 “…the first female applicant surfaced only days after the Jan. 4 deadline Defense Secretary Ash Carter set for new jobs to open.” (Seck, 2016a), with the total number of females applying for MARSOC rising during January and February.

As reported in March (Seck, 2016b), the first female to attend the US Marine Corps’ Critical Skills Operator training pipeline in August 2016 will be a Staff Sergeant.

“MARSOC is the first element within U.S. Special Operations Command to publicly confirm a female applicant after special operations jobs were opened to women earlier this year.” (Seck, 2016b).

1.3     How is MARSOC Different from Force Reconnaissance?

“MARSOC conducts missions by direction of the SOCOM Commander. These missions are normally conducted in irregular and unconventional settings. MARSOC Marines receive additional training with Special Operations Equipment and Tactics in order to fulfill these missions. USMC Recon conducts missions as part of the MAGTF in support of conventional operations.” (MARSOC, 2016a).


2.0     Introduction

US Recruiting Station, MEPSInformation regarding the basic requirements for enlistment or commissioning in the US Marine Corps can be found by clicking on the links, which the reader is advised to read if not already familiar.

The US Marine Corps does not accept direct entry applicants, i.e. civilians with no prior military experience, for the Critical Skills Operator branch. As a result, volunteers for Critical Skills Operator may be accepted from US officer and enlisted personnel to serve with the US Marine Corps’ Special Operations community.

Consequently, there are two recognised pathways to becoming a US Marine Corps Critical Skills Operator:

  1. Enlist while in the US Marine Corps and apply for a transfer; or
  2. Enlist while in the US Navy (each Marine Special Operations Company includes several Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsmen (SARCs) specially trained in combat diving, basic airborne and amphibious reconnaissance.

2.1     MARSOC Screening Team

For those CSO and SOO aspirants who meet the general requirements and eligibility for training, the next step is to contact one of the two MARSOC Screening Teams:

  • West Coast Screening Team: includes Hawaii.
  • East Coast Screening Team: includes Okinawa.

The Headquarters Marine Corps MARSOC Screening Team (HMST) also conducts Unit Level Briefings at the location of the unit.

The HMST brief explains the requirements and process for:

  • Attending assessment and selection;
  • Joining MARSOC; and
  • Gives an overview of MARSOC and its missions and operations.

2.2     General Requirements and Eligibility for All Candidates

Subject to the requirements outlined below, all US Marine Corps officer and enlisted personnel are eligible to attend the Critical Skills Operator or Special Operations Officer training programme.

General Requirements for all candidates (MARSOC, 2016a; Seck, 2016a):

  • Be a US citizen (or naturalised).
  • Have a minimum General Technical (GT) score of 105 on the ASVAB.
  • Able to obtain a Secret Security clearance.
  • Complete Physical Fitness Test, with a minimum score of 225 (Section 2.6).
  • Complete swim assessment (Section 2.7).
  • Complete loaded marches (Section 2.8).
  • Meet MARSOC medical screening criteria (Naval Special Warfare/Special Operations Duty Medical Examination).
  • Be willing, upon selection, to make a lateral move to the CSO or SOO speciality.

2.3     General Requirements and Eligibility for Officer Candidates

Additional criteria for officer candidates include (Seck, 2016a):

  • Must be in the rank of First Lieutenant or Captain.
  • Any MOS.

2.4     General Requirements and Eligibility for Enlisted Candidates

Additional criteria for enlisted candidates include (MARSOC, 2016a; Seck, 2016a):

  • Must have served a minimum of three years.
  • Must be in the rank of Corporal or Sergeant.
  • Any MOS.
  • A candidate must have a minimum of 90 days’ time on contract to attend Assessment and Selection Phase I.
  • Reenlistment is not a requirement, as the MARSOC monitor will work to gain a 60-month obligated time-in-service upon selection.
  • Personnel can request a lateral move back out of the CSO MOS 0372 to return to the general purpose force upon completion of a 60 month tour.
  • If a candidate reenlisted for the OPFOR bonus, they are not eligible to attend Assessment and Selection Phase I (Section 3.4). Candidates must meet the requirements of their contract.
  • Reservists can apply for the CSO MOS 0372, but only at the rank of Corporal and Sergeant.

2.5     General Requirements and Eligibility for US Navy Candidates

A US Navy Corpsman can join as a Combat Medic, officially known as Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsmen or SARCs, and receive advanced special operations medical training after training.

2.6     Physical Fitness Test

Course Mud Run

All candidates must complete the US Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (PFT), achieving a minimum score of 225 out of 300 (Seck, 2016a). The PFT is utilised as an initial physical screening tool that must be passed in order to start training.

The PFT consists of three events:

  • Males: Perform dead-hang pull-ups (no time limit), abdominal crunches (two-minute time limit), and a 3-mile run.
  • Females: Perform flexed-arm hangs (no time limit), abdominal crunches (two-minute time limit), and a 3-mile run.

Note: The above is taken from the MARSOC Training Guide published in 2014.

“When [Marines] go into assessment and screening, it’s a very holistic psychological profile. It’s swim, it’s physical fitness, but we don’t even count the PFT as part of the evaluation. It’s much more comprehensive than that…” (Seck, 2016a).

2.7     Swim Assessment

BPFA, CMST, Swim, WaterAll candidates must complete a swim assessment for initial screening, which is currently the US Marine Corps Modified Intermediate Level Swim Test, and will receive further training at Assessment and Selection Phase I.

Candidates will be expected to perform the USMC side stroke and/or breast stroke as part of the swim assessment. The swim assessment consists of:

  • Conduct abandon ship drill from a six metre platform;
  • Swim 300 metres continuously in utility blouse and trousers without combat equipment and boots using the breast stroke or side stroke;
  • Tread water in a utility blouse and trousers unassisted for eleven minutes then transition to the survival float using the blouse or trouser for floating for four minutes; and
  • Must demonstrate confidence in the water and the ability to remain afloat.

2.8     Loaded March

US Army Ranger, Loaded March (2)During Assessment and Selection (A&S), candidates are expected to meet MARSOCs Assessment & Selection Ruck Movement Standards. The standards include:

  • A requirement to move at a minimum pace of 15 minutes per mile.
  • Rucksacks to weigh 45lbs dry, meaning without water or rations.
  • Marches generally being conducted, during Phase I, on a combination of hardball roads, gravel roads or trails within Camp Lejeune.
  • Using the rucksack issued by the MARSOC Central Issuing Facility during check in at A&S Phase I.
  • The instructor cadre explaining the how the gear is configured, and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for marches prior to any event.
  • Candidates being responsible for ensuring that their rucksack meets the minimum weight requirements (45lbs) and also contains the specified gear needed for the event that is briefed, or based on the SOP.
  • All candidates carrying rubber training rifles (currently M-16s), weighing approximately 10lbs.
  • Candidates not being allowed to use a sling during A&S Phase I or II.

“The fastest recorded 12-mile ruck time at A&S is 1 hour 47 minutes, which is just under a 9-minute mile pace. That’s 6 minutes per mile below the minimum 15-minute mile pace.” (MARSOC, 2014, p.27).

Candidates should note that the PFT, swim assessment and loaded marches form part of the overall score. Minutes on the loaded march could mean the difference between selection and non-selection.


3.0     CSO and SOO Selection and Training Phases

The journey to becoming a CSO or SOO is not easy, and training is rigorous and highly selective, but the courage and strength individuals will gain as a candidate will stay with them for their entire life.

The CSO and SOO training programme is the selection and training process for all candidates wishing to join the US Marine Corps’ SOF community as a Critical Skills Operator or Special Operations Officer.

The MARSOC training pipeline is similar to that of the US Army’s Special Forces with assessment, selections and qualification courses with similar length of time and education, but also holds very challenging water confidence skills and rucking requirements of both the US Navy’s SEALs and US Army’s Ranger training.

All candidates will undertake a number of distinct stages of training (Table 1), in which candidates are taught the fundamentals of US Marine Corps special warfare through formal US Marine Corps schooling and on-the-job training.

Table 1: CSO and SOO training pipeline
Stage Programme Sub-course/Element Duration
Preparation Enlistment or Commissioning Process Variable
Basic Military Training or Officer Candidate School 9.5 weeks
MOS (or Employment) Training Variable
Serve 3 years and be promoted to Corporal or Sergeant; or Lieutentant to Captain Variable
Assessment Assessment and Selection (A&S) Phase I 21 days
Assessment and Selection (A&S) Phase II 19 days
Accession Training (AT) Individual Training Course (ITC) Phase III, consists of: 9 months
Phase 0: In-processing and Introduction 8 weeks
Phase 1: Basic Skills 8 weeks
Phase 2: Direct Action 7 weeks
Phase 3: Special Reconnaissance 6 weeks
Phase 4: Irregular Warfare 7 weeks
Team Commander’s Course (TCC) (for officer candidates) 4 weeks
Basic Airborne Course (scroll down to Section 3.2) 3 weeks
Language Training 6 months
Individual Training Phase (ITP) CSOs and SOOs join their teams and train intensively as subject matter experts in advanced communications, engineering, special weapons, intelligence, and advanced special operations, depending on their billet. Variable
Unit Training Phase (UTP) A collective UTP that focuses on integration of all assets, to include support and service support, into mission profile scenarios in both direct and indirect operations specifically tailored to the assigned mission. Variable
Source: JSOU, 2015; Lee, 2015; MARSOC, 2011, 2015a & 2016a; Seck, 2016a

3.1     Training Hierarchy

The Marine Special Operations School (MSOS), commanded by a Colonel (OF-5), is a unit of MARSOC and is headquartered at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The MSOS was established in June 2007.

The role of the MSOS is to screen, assess, select and train Marines to be CSOs and SOOs. The MSOS is the home of all US Marine Corps special operations entry-level training for CSOs, SOOs and Special Operations Capabilities Specialists (SOCS), and consists of (JSOU, 2015; MARSOC, 2015b):

  • Headquarters and Supply (H&S): staff officer branches, medical and supply.
  • Training and Education Branch (T&EB): Academics; Whole Marine; ITC Proctors; and MIQC.
  • Assessment and Selection Branch (A&S): Conducts the assessment and selection of all CSO and SOO candidates.
  • Special Operations Training Companies (SOTCs): There are four SOTCs, each commanded by a Captain (OF-2), which deliver the ITC and Advanced Courses (e.g. weapons employment, communications and special reconnaissance).
    • SOTC-1: ITC Phase 1 and MARSOC Helicopter Insertion Extraction Training (MHIET).
    • SOTC-2: ITC Phase 2, MARSOC Close Quarters Battle Leaders II Course (MCQBL2) and MARSOC Master Breacher Course (MMBC).
    • SOTC-3: ITC Phase 3, MARSOC Technical Surveillance Course (MTSC), Advanced Special Training Level II (ASOT II) and MARSOC Advanced Sniper Course (MASC).
    • SOTC: 4: ITC Phase 4 and MARSOC Team Commander’s Course (MTCC).
  • Special Skills Branch: Commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4), delivers:
    • Full Spectrum SERE Training.
    • Language Training through the Basic Language Course (BLC), which produces capable speakers in French, Indonesian, Tagalog, and Modern Standard Arabic.
    • ITC Phase 0.

3.2     Assessment and Selection Preparatory and Orientation Course

The Assessment and Selection Preparatory and Orientation Course (ASPOC) was conducted for all personnel applying for Assessment and Selection (MARSOC, 2011).

The primary goal of the course was to enhance a candidate’s physical ability, confidence and situational awareness prior to undergoing the formal assessment and selection programme.

Additionally, this course would educate the candidate on the roles and missions of MARSOC so as to ensure an understanding of the nature and level of commitment expected of a CSO or SOO.

Each ASPOC was led by MARSOC CSOs who taught, coached and mentored each candidate. For Sergeants and below ASPOC was mandatory and for senior NCOs and officers the course was voluntary.

Note: Not sure if this course is still extant, MARSOC Pub 1 (the foundational publication for MARSOC published in 2011, which is an overarching and comprehensive document that sets the philosophical tone for Marine Special Operations Forces) is the only document that mentions it.

3.3     Assessment and Selection Phase I

The selection process screens an applicant for mental fortitude and physical capabilities, while preparing candidates for future duties as a CSO or SOO. Thus the selection process reduces the training attrition rate by ensuring that candidates selected are equipped to succeed in the specific mental and physical challenges of the training pipeline.

The Assessment and Selection (A&S) Phase I Course is delivered by the Marine Special Operations School at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

The course is 21 days (MARSOC, 2015a) or 23 days (Lee, 2015) in duration and is designed to test the candidates to see if they have what it takes to make it through A&S Phase II. Candidates will be challenged both mentally and physically during A&S Phase I. Training includes (Lee, 2015):

  • The Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test;
  • Loaded marches with distances varying between 8 to 12 miles;
  • Multiple swim training sessions;
  • Marine Corps obstacle course;
  • Performing other physical training sessions; and
  • Classroom instruction were candidates learn: advanced land navigation skills; USSOCOM and MARSOC history; good physical fitness and nutrition practices; and other criteria critical to being a MARSOC operator.

10 attributes that MARSOC evaluators are looking for in candidates include (MARSOC, 2011; MARSOC, 2015a):

  1. Integrity: Does the right thing even when no one is watching.
  2. Effective Intelligence: The ability to solve practical problems when a “book solution” is not available. Learn and apply new skills to unusual problems by making sound and timely decisions.
  3. Physical Ability: Having the necessary physical attributes and functional fitness to do one’s job and persevere under stress.
  4. Adaptability: The ability to continuously evaluate information about the present situation and change your plans as the situation changes, always operating within Commander’s Intent.
  5. Initiative: Goes beyond the scope of his duties without having to be guided or told what to do.
  6. Determination: Individual sustains a high level of effort over long periods of time despite the situation.
  7. Dependability: Can be relied on to complete tasks correctly, on time, and without supervision.
  8. Teamwork: Working well within a team, large or small.
  9. Interpersonal Skills: Ability to interact and influence others with a minimum of unnecessary strife or friction.
  10. Stress Tolerance: Deal with ambiguous, dangerous, high pressure and/or frustrating events while maintaining control of emotion, actions, composure and effectiveness.

A&S Phase I starts and finishes with an evaluation. At the start of A&S Phase I candidates will undertake a PFT, Swim and 8-mile Loaded March. The A&S Phase I concludes with a PFT, abandon ship drill, 300-metre swim (uniform, no boots), 11 minutes of treading water, and a 12-mile Loaded March carrying 45lb in 3 hours or less (MARSOC, 2015a).

The A&S is very competitive. For example, in April 2007 the first USSOCOM sanctioned assessment and selection board selected 12 out of 43 candidates (MARSOC, 2015b).

“‘Phase I is not a preparation course for Phase II, it is the beginning of the selection,’ said the A&S Phase I Lead Instructor.” (Lee, 2015).

3.4     Assessment and Selection Phase II

ca. 2000 --- Keeping Score for the Team --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisThe Assessment and Selection (A&S) Phase II Course is delivered, three times a year, by the Marine Special Operations School located at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

The course is 19 days in duration and is designed to be a mentally and physically challenging evaluation, so as to enable MARSOC to identify those candidates who have the attributes deemed compatible with special operations missions and the MARSOC way of life.

During the two phases of the A&S process, an evaluation tool known as the “Whole Marine Concept” (MARSOC, 2011, p4-4) is utilised to ensure that candidates are objectively assessed and measured. The data based system requires a completed performance grade sheet for each event a candidate undertakes. Each candidate is then measured statistically against their class, and previous class, performance to gauge where they stand amongst their peer group; helping to create an unbiased grading criterion.

The accumulative results of each candidate’s performance are then reviewed twice, firstly by the Instructor Cadre and then on the Commander’s Board. The board may interview candidates and will make recommendations on those who should, and should not, be selected for the next stage of training on the Individual Training Course. Unsuccessful candidates may be invited back to A&S.

Prior to starting the Individual Training Course, candidates are expected to complete the Defence Language Aptitude Battery Test.

3.5     Individual Training Course

USAF, SOF, CCT, Combat ControllerCandidates who are successful during Assessment and Selection will attend the Individual Training Course (ITC), which witnessed its first graduates, of fifty Marines, in April 2009 (MARSOC, 2015b).

The ITC is a 9-month training programme with the aim of developing candidates into multidimensional operators (MDO) who are capable of operating across the full spectrum of special operations. During ITC, candidates are under constant observation from the instructor cadre as well as their peers.

The first class of 2013 (Class 1-13) started with 12 officers and 67 enlisted candidates, 79 personnel divided into four Marine Special Operations Teams or MSOT (Couch, 2014). Each MSOT is assigned a Tactical Advisory Cadre (TAC), a USMC Staff Sergeant. Each MSOT is led by a student officer Team Commander, who is assisted by the student enlisted Team Sergeant (the team’s senior officer and senior Sergeant respectively) (Couch, 2014). Each ITC is overseen by a Class Proctor, a USMC Gunnery Sergeant.

During the early stages of ITC, candidates must score 1st Class on the introductory PFT or Operator Fitness Test (OPFITT), which includes (MARSOC, 2016b):

  • 5 mile run in PT gear at an 8 minute per mile maximum pace;
  • 10 mile hike in the MCCU with weapon, LBE and 45lb ruck (plus water) at a 15 minute per mile maximum pace;
  • 500 metre combat stroke (side/breast) swim in a maximum of 12.5 minutes (wearing swim trunks);
  • 2 consecutive runs of the Marine Corps obstacle course in a maximum of 5 minutes; and
    Successfully complete the Water Safety Advanced (WSA) swim qualification.

Examples of training received during this course includes (MARSOC, 2016b):

  • Tactical combat casualty care (TCCC);
  • Direct action;
  • Communications;
  • Fire support;
  • Light infantry tactics;
  • Reconnaissance tactics, techniques, and procedures (TPPs);
  • Close quarters battle;
  • Foreign internal defence;
  • Survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE); and
  • Infantry weapons and tactics.
  • Irregular warfare; and
  • Cultural and interpersonal skills.

The above training is encompassed in four training phases, as outlined in Table 2.

Table 2: Phase of ITC training (before 2013)
Phase Duration Description
Phase 1: Basic Skills 10 weeks
  • Administrative in-process.
  • Kit inspection.
  • Introductory PFT or Operator Fitness Test (OPFITT).
  • Trains and evaluates candidates in the basic skill sets required of all special operators.
  • Physical fitness, swimming and hand-to-hand combat are stressed in a physical training (PT) programme designed around endurance, functional fitness and amphibious training.
  • The PT programme continues throughout the course and has been designed to prepare the candidate for the unique demands of special operations.
  • Field skills including: navigation, patrolling, SERE, TCCC.
  • Mission planning, fire support training and communications finalise the first phase.
 Phase 2: Small Unit Tactics

8 weeks

  • Builds upon the foundation of Phase 1, training the candidate in small boat and scout swimmer operations, crew served weapons, demolitions, photography, and information collection and reporting.
  • Candidates will be evaluated in two Full Mission Profile exercises:
    • Operation Raider Spirit is a 2 week exercise focused on patrolling and combat operations; and
    • Operation Stingray Fury is focused on urban and rural reconnaissance.
Phase 3: Close Quarters Battle 5 weeks
  • Candidates receive training in rifle and pistol combat marksmanship.
  • The TTPs needed to serve as a member of a Marine Special Operations Team during assault operations.
  • Candidates will be evaluated in a series of Full Mission Profile precision raids on rural and urban objectives during Operation Guile Strike.
Phase 4: Irregular Warfare 7 weeks
  • Candidates receive training on Irregular Warfare operations.
  • The course culminates with Operation Derna Bridge which requires candidates (during multiple practical exercises) to use all of the skills mastered throughout the ITC while training, advising and operating with a Partner Nation/Irregular force.
  • Newly graduated MARSOF CSO’s will be assigned to one of the three Marine Special Operations Battalions.
Source: MARSOC, 2011 & 2016b

Couch (2014) highlights a number of changes witnessed on the ITC during 2012/2013.

  • Phase 1 or Basic Skills Phase renamed Phase 0 or Basic Skills.
  • Phase 2 or Small Unit Tactics reformed into two new Phases:
    • Ground Combat and Amphibious; and
    • Special Reconnaissance.
  • Phase 3: Direct Action.
  • Phase 4: Irregular Warfare.

However, by 2015, training had once again witnessed another iteration, as highlighted in Table 3.

Table 3: Phase of ITC training (after 2013)
Phase Duration Description
Phase 0: Introduction 8 weeks
  • In-processing and introduction.
  • Medical.
  • Communications.
  • SERE training.
 Phase 1: Basic Skills 8 weeks 
  • Basic skills.
  • Fires.
  • Amphibious.
  • Tactics.
  • Weapons.
  • Patrolling and raids exercises.
 Phase 2: Direct Action 7 weeks 
  • Combat marksmanship.
  • Close quarter’s battle.
  • Urban combat.
  • Direct action exercise.
 Phase 3: Special Reconnaissance 6 weeks
  • Special reconnaissance.
  • Reconnaissance exercise.
Phase 4: Irregular Warfare 7 weeks
  • Irregular warfare.
  • Derna Bridge (FID/UW) exercise.
  • Out-processing.
Source: JSOU, 2015

3.6     MARSOC Team Commander’s Course

Word Cloud, LeadershipPrior to 2016, officer candidates attend the same ITC as their enlisted counterparts, acting as team commanders throughout. Officer candidates would attend the 4 week Team Commander’s Course (TCC), known as Phase 5, immediately after the ITC.

However, since 2016, the ITC has been described as the ITC/MTCC (MARSOC, 2016b), and it would appear that officer candidates now have their own course known as the MARSOC Team Commander’s Course (MTCC) (as I understand it, officer candidates still act as team commanders and train alongside their enlisted counterparts). Although officer candidates start the MTCC, on average, 1 week earlier than enlisted candidates on the ITC, both graduate on the same date.

The purpose of the TCC was to address the specific training requirements for SOOs prior to them assuming command of a Marine Special Operations Team (MSOT). Training during the TCC included (FBO, 2013):

  • Concise Writing: Typically a half day of training, it involves instruction on skills that are vital to MARSOC leaders as they communicate with military and civilian leaders, attempting to influence people (both civilian and military) while conducting operations worldwide.
  • Negotiation/Mediation: Typically 2 days of training, it involves instruction on skills that are vital to MARSOC leaders as they engage in negotiations and non-kinetic engagements with military and civilian leaders, attempting to influence people (both civilian and military) while conducting operations worldwide.
  • Public Speaking: Typically 1 day of training, it involves instruction on skills that are vital to MARSOC leaders as they communicate with military and civilian leaders, attempting to influence people (both civilian and military) while conducting operations worldwide.

3.7     Basic Airborne Course

16_Coy_Goose_Balloon_exitAll candidates must attend the Basic Airborne Course delivered by the US Army at the Airborne School, Fort Benning in Georgia.

During the 3-week course, candidates will learn the basic parachuting skills required to infiltrate an objective area by static line airdrop.

Detailed information on the 3-week Basic Airborne Course can be found here (scroll down to Section 3.2).

3.8     Graduation

Upon graduation, enlisted candidates are designated CSOs and awarded the 0372 MOS. The Primary MOS of 0370 is awarded to officer candidates.

CSOs and SOOs can stay with MARSOC for the duration of their US Marine Corps career (Sanborn, 2014).


4.0     Summary

The Critical Skills Operator and Special Operations Officer branches are open to all male and female enlisted personnel of the US Marine Corps. CSO and SOO training seeks to attract determined, highly-motivated, intelligent, reliable and physically fit individuals to serve with the US Marine Corps’ SOF community. This article provides the basic information to allow individuals to make an informed judgement before applying for CSO and SOO training.

4.1     Useful Books

  • Always Faithful, Always Forward: The Forging of a Special Operations Marine by Dick Crouch published in 2014 by the Penguin Group.
  • MARSOC: U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command by Fred J Pushies published in 2011 by Zenith Press.
  • Level Zero Heroes: The Story of U.S. Marine Special Operations in Bala Murghab, Afghanistan by Michael Golembesky and John R. Bruning published in 2014 by St Martin’s Press.

4.2     Useful Links

4.3     References

Couch, D. (2014) Always Faithful, Always Forward: The Forging of a Special Operations Marine. New York, New York: Penguin Group.

Cuningham, H. (2013) Marine Special Operations Forces Quietly Gain Stature Within SOCOM. On Patrol: The Magazine of the United Service Organisations. Digital Edition. Summer 2013. Available from World Wide Web: http://usoonpatrol.org/archives/2013/06/17/marsoc-gaining-stature. [Accessed: 31 March, 2016].

FBO (Federal Business Opportunities) (2013) MARSOC ITC Team Commanders Course. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=185d8f6762a4777e83aacda0e950e98a&tab=core&_cview=0. [Accessed: 03 April, 2016].

JSOU (Joint Special Operations University) (2015) Special Operations Forces Reference Manual. 4th Ed. MacDill Air Force Base, Florida: The JSOU Press.

Lee, D. (2015) MARSOC Begins Screening And Assessment. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.marines.com/news/-/news-story/detail/NEWS_13MAR2015_MARSOC-BEGINS-SCREENING-ASSESSMENT_MARINESMIL. [Accessed: 31 March, 2015].

MARSOC (US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command) (2011) MARSOC Pub 1. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.marsoc.com/media/. [Accessed: 31 March, 2016].

MARSOC (US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command) (2014) MARSOC Training Guide. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.marsoc.com/media/. [Accessed: 31 March, 2016].

MARSOC (US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command) (2015a) MARSOC by the Numbers. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.marsoc.com/media/. [Accessed: 31 March, 2016].

MARSOC (US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command) (2015b) MARSOC Command Pamphlet. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.marsoc.com/media/. [Accessed: 31 March, 2016].

MARSOC (US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command) (2016a) Frequently Asked Questions. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.marsoc.com/faqs/. [Accessed: 31 March, 2016].

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