Elite & Special Forces Main Page US Elite & Special Forces Main Page

Last Updated: 16 April, 2016

This article is structured as follows:

  • Part 01: Background to the US Marine Corps’ Reconnaissance community.
  • Part 02: Entry Standards and Applications.
  • Part 03: Outline of the USMCs Reconnaissance Selection & Training process.
  • Part 04: Miscellaneous.


1.0     Introduction

USMC, Reconnaissance, Recon 0321This article provides an overview of the recruitment, selection and training process for the US Marine Corps’ Reconnaissance community, which includes the two amphibious/ground reconnaissance assets of the USMC known as Division Reconnaissance and Force Reconnaissance.

These two amphibious/ground reconnaissance assets of the USMC, Division and Force Reconnaissance, are generally trained in the same aspect and environment of intelligence collection for a Navy/Marine Fleet Marine Force Commander, regardless of their difference in tactical area of responsibility (AOR).

However, despite both assets operating in the reconnaissance role, they have distinctive responsibilities (Section 1.4). Reconnaissance is also viewed as a poor relation of MARSOC, the Marine’s Special Operations Command, as noted by Captain Quinn (Executive Officer of the Recon Training Company) (Fuentes, 2015):

“You’ve got high attrition in BRC, coupled with casualties in combat and just the high turnover rate in our MOS of losing guys to MARSOC, losing [special amphibious recon] corpsmen to MARSOC, and guys just naturally getting out after a couple of deployments…”

Working in a 6-man task organised team capable of conducting specific missions behind enemy lines, the role of the USMC reconnaissance community is to provide Marine commanders with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information, and as such their role includes:

  • Plan, coordinate, and conduct amphibious-ground reconnaissance and surveillance to observe, identify, and report enemy activity, and collect other information of military significance.
  • Conduct specialised surveying to include: underwater reconnaissance and/or demolitions; beach permeability and topography; routes; bridges; structures; urban/rural areas; helicopter landing zones (LZ); parachute drop zones (DZ); aircraft forward operating sites; and mechanised reconnaissance missions.
  • When properly task organised with other forces, equipment or personnel, assist in specialised engineer, radio, and other special reconnaissance missions.
  • Infiltrate mission areas by necessary means to include: surface; subsurface; and airborne operations.
  • Conduct Initial Terminal Guidance (ITG) for helicopters, landing craft, parachutists, air-delivery and re-supply.
  • Designate and engage selected targets with organic weapons and force fires to support battlespace shaping; this includes designation and terminal guidance of precision-guided munitions.
  • Conduct post-strike reconnaissance to determine and report battle damage assessment on a specified target or area.
  • Conduct limited scale raids and ambushes.

Consequently, Reconnaissance Marines are experts in reconnaissance, scouting and patrolling operations.

From boot camp to first deployment, a Reconnaissance Marine or Expeditionary Ground Reconnaissance officer may undertake approximately one to two years of training.

“Officials say they need 1,146 recon Marines to fully man the community, but that with 928 on the books now, the service is two companies short.” (Fuentes, 2015).

It must be emphasised that a candidate must be physically fit at the beginning of the reconnaissance 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 and swimming techniques.

1.1     Aim

The primary aim of this article is to describe the fundamental entry requirements, selection process and training for personnel seeking to become a Reconnaissance Marine or Expeditionary Ground Reconnaissance Officer.

A secondary aim is to highlight and discuss other elements of the USMC reconnaissance community where appropriate.

For information on the US Marine Corps’s Special Operations Command (MARSOC) Critical Skills Operator and Special Operations Officer selection and training process look here.

1.2     Women and the US Marine Corps Reconnaissance Community

From 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).

1.3     Defining Reconnaissance

USMC, Reconnaissance, 7th Recon ChallenegeThe US Department of Defence defines reconnaissance as (US Army, 2004, p.1-158):

“A mission undertaken to obtain, by visual observation or other detection methods, information about the activities and resources of an enemy or potential enemy, or to secure data concerning the meteorological, hydrographic, or geographic characteristics of a particular area. Also called recce; recon.”

Reconnaissance can also be divided into four related activities (USMC, 2015c):

  • Amphibious Reconnaissance and Surveillance is the collection and reporting of information about the activities and resources of an enemy of a particular area well in advance of an amphibious landing force. Reconnaissance units will also conduct initial and/or confirmatory beach reconnaissance, landing sites, ports, surveys of rivers and other riverine operations, as well as conduct initial terminal guidance (ITG) of amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs), tactical boats, amphibious ships, landing craft, or aircraft.
  • Ground Reconnaissance and Surveillance: The primary function of collection within the MAGTF area of operations and area of influence. This includes area and zone reconnaissance, employing technical surveillance assets and providing ground perspective imagery. When properly task organised with other forces or equipment, specialised engineer, radio, mobile and other unique reconnaissance missions may be conducted.
  • Aerial Reconnaissance and Surveillance: Undertaken by US Marine Corps or US Navy pilots.
  • Underwater Reconnaissance is the collection and reporting of information concerning the hydrographic characteristics of a particular area well in advance of an amphibious landing force. It also entails conducting subsurface detailed hydrographic survey in support of all US Navy landing craft and Marine Corps AAVs.

However, Reconnaissance Battalion and Force Reconnaissance Company assets are not restricted to the above activities. They also undertake combat assessment, battlespace shaping, hunter-killer operations, urban terrain operations, specialised limited scale raids and other offensive operations, and special missions (for example, pathfinder operations, sniper operations, and stability and contingency operations) (USMC, 2015c).

Some of the above missions are shared by the Marine Special Operations Teams, part of the USMCs Special Operations Command (MARSOC), who also perform reconnaissance as part of their MARSOC role.

1.4     The Different Types of USMC Reconnaissance Roles & Capabilities

The reconnaissance capability within the USMC is composed of six separate, but complementary, components (USMC, 2015c):

  1. Reconnaissance Battalion, more commonly known as Marine Division Recon or Division Recon. Organic to the Ground Combat Element (GCE), Reconnaissance Battalions are employed to observe and report on enemy activity and other information of military significance. Their capabilities are similar to those of Force Recon. The Reconnaissance Battalion provides amphibious reconnaissance, battlespace shaping, ground reconnaissance and surveillance in support of the Marine division, subordinate division elements or a designated MAGTF. Reconnaissance Battalions conduct the same missions as the Force Recon Companies except where Force Recon Companies conduct specialised limited scale raids, the Reconnaissance Battalions conduct raids and direct action (DA). However, the operations listed under limited scale raids are the same as those that may be conducted during raids or DAs.
  2. Force Reconnaissance Company, more commonly known as Force Recon or FORECON. The mission of Force Recon is to conduct amphibious reconnaissance, surveillance, and raids in support of the Marine expeditionary force (MEF), other MAGTFs, or joint task forces (JTFs) as required. These units conduct reconnaissance in support of advance force operations (AFO), MAGTF operations, and GCE operations. Force reconnaissance uses specialised insertion, patrolling, reporting, and extraction techniques to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance tasks in support of the MAGTF and maintains the capability to perform special operations capable tasks.
  3. Radio Battalion: Organic to the command element, Radio Battalion (via Radio Reconnaissance Platoons) provides ground-based signals intelligence (SIGINT), electronic warfare (EW), communications security (COMSEC) monitoring, and special intelligence communications capability. It plans and coordinates the employment of its subordinate elements, to include radio reconnaissance elements beyond the forward edge of the battle area and mobile EW support system in light armoured vehicles.
  4. Ground Sensor Platoon (GSP): GSPs are trained to plan the employment of, to operate, and to maintain a remote sensor system in support of MAGTF operations. Organic to the intelligence battalion and subordinate to the command element, this unit provides remote sensor, imagery interpretation, and topographic intelligence support. The GSP plans, executes, and monitors MAGTF reconnaissance (sensor) operations.
  5. Light Armoured Reconnaissance (LAR) Battalion: Organic to the GCE, the LAR operates in forward areas or along the flanks, and provides early warning of enemy contact. The Marines in each light armoured vehicle are trained in information collection and reporting. These units are capable of a wide variety of missions due to their inherent mobility and organic firepower.
  6. Scout Snipers Platoon: Scout sniper platoons are organic to the infantry battalions within the GCE. Although the platoon can be employed in support of a myriad of tactical missions in defensive and offensive operations, they are primarily employed to provide timely surveillance and tactical data, and coordinate supporting arms and close air support (CAS). The scout sniper platoon provides the infantry battalion with extended area observation.

The Reconnaissance Battalions and the Force Reconnaissance Companies essentially fulfil the same mission profiles (USMC, 2015c). However, there are two distinct differences:

  • Who they work for; and
  • The distance from their own lines.

Reconnaissance Battalions are typically employed in general support of a MAGTF or Marine Division (MARDIV), or employed in indirect support of a subordinate unit of the division. Force Reconnaissance Companies normally operate under the staff cognisance of the intelligence support coordinator (ISC) of the MAGTF G-2/S-2 (Intelligence Section) for reconnaissance and surveillance missions and under the staff cognisance of the MAGTF G-3/S-3 (Operations Section) for offensive missions. When required by the situation, the Force Reconnaissance Company, or detachments, may be placed in direct support to smaller MAGTFs or to Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) major subordinate commands (MSC) other than the command element.

Force Reconnaissance Company operations often take place well beyond the range of MAGTF supporting arms and in the vicinity of the enemy’s operational reserve, staging and marshalling areas, and key lines of communications (referred to as Deep Reconnaissance). In contrast Reconnaissance Battalion operations will often take place within the range of MAGTF supporting arms etcetera (referred to as Close Reconnaissance).

Simply put, Reconnaissance Battalion units support the close and distant battlespace, while Force Reconnaissance units conduct deep reconnaissance in support of a landing force.

1.5     Organisation of Reconnaissance Battalions and Force Reconnaissance Companies

The USMCs’ Active Duty Reconnaissance Battalions, each commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4) are the 1st, 2nd and 3nd Reconnaissance Battalions. These battalions consist of three reconnaissance companies and a Headquarters and Service (H&S) Company, each commanded by a Major (OF-3). Each reconnaissance company consists of four platoons, each commanded by a Lieutenant (OF-1). A reconnaissance platoon consists of 23 personnel (1 officer, 21 enlisted Marines and 1 Navy Corpsman).

The 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, part of the USMC Forces Reserve, is responsible for providing trained and qualified individuals for Active Duty service in times of war, national emergency or in support of contingency operations. It also provides personnel and operational tempo relief for active component forces during times of peace.

The USMCs’ Active Duty Force Reconnaissance Companies, each commanded by a Major (OF-3), are located in I, II and III MEF. These companies consist of four Force Reconnaissance platoons, each commanded by a Captain (OF-2) and an H&S platoon. Each Force Reconnaissance platoon consists of three reconnaissance teams and a HQ team. A Force Reconnaissance platoon consists of 23 personnel (1 officer, 21 enlisted Marines and 1 Navy Corpsman).

The 3rd and 4th Force Reconnaissance Companies, part of the USMC Forces Reserve, are responsible for providing trained and qualified individuals for Active Duty service in times of war, national emergency, or in support of contingency operations. They also provide personnel and operational tempo relief for active component forces during times of peace.

“Force reconnaissance Marines are selected from among the reconnaissance battalion’s most mature and experienced noncommissioned officers (NCOs). They undergo a rigorous selection and training process before being assigned to the company.” (USMC, 2015, p.2-18).

1.6     USMC Infantry MOS

The core Infantry Military Occupational Specialty’s (MOS) for the USMC are 0311, 0331, 0341, 0351 and 0352 (USMC, 2015a). Training for the core MOS is delivered at the School of Infantry, whilst training for all other Infantry roles is delivered by ‘follow on’ schools after graduation in one of the core MOS.

  • Enlisted MOS:
    • 0300: Basic Infantryman (Private to Sergeant).
    • 0311: Rifleman (Private to Sergeant).
    • 0312: Riverine Assault Craft (RAC) Crewman (Private First Class to Gunnery Sergeant).
    • 0313: LAV Crewman (Private to Master Gunnery Sergeant).
    • 0314: Rigid Raiding Craft (RRC)/Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) Coxswain (Private First Class to Staff Sergeant).
    • 0316: Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft (CRRC) Coxswain (Private First Class to Staff Sergeant): are responsible for the safety and conduct of their boat team and the safe operation, handling, launch, recovery and maintenance of CRRC and its associated equipment, components and SL-3 items.
    • 0317: Scout Sniper (Lance Corporal to Master Gunnery Sergeant): is a Marine skilled in field craft and marksmanship who delivers long range, precision fire on selected targets from concealed positions in support of combat operations. They also conduct close reconnaissance and surveillance operations for the infantry battalion in support of the intelligence section.
    • 0321: Reconnaissance Marine (Private to Master Gunnery Sergeant): is an Infantry Marine skilled in amphibious reconnaissance and ground reconnaissance. In addition to basic infantry skills, they possess proficiency in scout swimming, small boat operations and refined observation, scouting, patrolling and long-range communications skills.
    • 0323: Reconnaissance Marine, Parachute Qualified (Private to Master Gunnery Sergeant).
    • 0324: Reconnaissance Marine, Combatant Diver Qualified (Private to Master Gunnery Sergeant).
    • 0326: Reconnaissance Marine, Parachute and Combatant Diver Qualified (Private to Master Gunnery Sergeant).
    • 0331: Machine Gunner (Private to Sergeant).
    • 0341: Mortar Marine (Private to Sergeant).
    • 0351: Infantry Assault Marine (Private to Sergeant).
    • 0352: Antitank Missile Marine (Private to Sergeant).
    • 0365: Infantry Squad Leader (Corporal to Sergeant).
    • 0369: Infantry Unit Leader (Staff Sergeant to Master Gunnery Sergeant).
    • 0372: Critical Skills Operator (CSO) (Sergeant to Master Gunnery Sergeant).
  • Officer MOS:
    • 0302: Infantry Officer (2nd Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel): are the commanders, or their assistants, in infantry and reconnaissance units in MAGTFs.
    • 0303: Light-Armoured Reconnaissance (LAR) Officer: are the commanders, or their assistants, in the LAR Battalions. As such, LAR Officers plan, direct and assist in the deployment and tactical employment of LAR units, which includes; collecting information requirements; evaluating intelligence; estimating the operational situation; and formulating, coordinating and executing appropriate plans for armoured reconnaissance.
    • 0306: Infantry Weapons Officer (Chief Warrant Officer 2 to 5).
    • 0307: Expeditionary Ground Reconnaissance (EGR) Officer (2nd Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel): are the commanders, or their assistants, in the reconnaissance battalions and force reconnaissance companies.
    • 0370: Special Operations Officer (SOO) (2nd Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel).

An MOS can also have one of five prefixes:

  • Primary MOS (PMOS): Used to identify the primary skills and knowledge of a Marine. Only enlisted Marines, warrant officers, chief warrant officers, and limited duty officers are promoted in their primary MOS.
  • Necessary MOS (NMOS): A non-PMOS that has a prerequisite of one or more PMOSs. This MOS identifies a particular skill or training that is in addition to a Marine’s PMOS, but can only be filled by a Marine with a specific PMOS.
  • Free MOS (FMOS): Non-PMOS that can be filled by any Marine regardless of primary MOS. A free MOS requires skill sets unrelated to primary skills.
  • Exception MOS (EMOS): Non-PMOS that is generally FMOS, but include exceptions that require a PMOS.
  • Additional MOS (AMOS): Any existing PMOS awarded to a Marine who already holds a PMOS. Example: After a lateral move, a Marine’s previous PMOS becomes an AMOS. Marines are not promoted in an AMOS.

The 0321 and 0307 MOS are classified as NMOS.

1.7     Reconnaissance Battalion Corpsmen Roles and Responsibilities

USMC, SARC, Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman, US Navy, ReconReconnaissance battalions require reconnaissance qualified medical personnel (aka US Navy Corpsmen) who are trained and qualified to perform paramedical skills under austere combat conditions.

These Fleet Marine Force (FMF) reconnaissance corpsmen and FMF reconnaissance independent duty corpsmen (IDCs) are referred to as special amphibious reconnaissance corpsmen (SARCs).

SARCs are trained to the same degree as the reconnaissance Marines within the unit’s reconnaissance platoons. And, although capable of filling leadership billets within the platoon and company, reconnaissance corpsmen and IDCs are not typically employed in this manner due to their primary duties as a healthcare providers.

The FORECON companies have the same medical support requirements as the Reconnaissance Battalion. The SARCs fill this requirement and are employed in the same manner.

1.8     Reconnaissance Creed

  • Realising it is my choice and my choice alone to be a Reconnaissance Marine, I accept all challenges involved with this profession. Forever shall I strive to maintain the tremendous reputation of those who went before me.
  • Exceeding beyond the limitations set down by others shall be my goal, sacrificing personal comforts and dedicating myself to the completion of the Reconnaissance mission shall be my life. Physical fitness, mental attitude, and high ethics – The title of Recon Marine is my honour.
  • Conquering all obstacles, both large and small, I shall never quit. To quit, to surrender, to give up is to fail. To be a Reconnaissance Marine is to surpass failure: to overcome, to adapt and to do whatever it takes to complete the mission.
  • On the battlefield, as in all areas of life, I shall stand tall above the competition. Through professional pride, integrity, and teamwork, I shall be the example for all Marines to emulate. 
  • Never shall I forget the principles I accepted to become a Reconnaissance Marine. Honour, Perseverance, Spirit and Heart. A Recon Marine can speak without saying a word and achieve what other can only imagine.


2.0     Introduction

Information 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 accept direct entry applicants, i.e. civilians with no prior military experience, for the Reconnaissance Marine and EGR officer branches. As a result, volunteers for each may be accepted from appropriately qualified officer (USMC) and enlisted (USMC and US Navy) personnel to serve with the US Marine Corps’ reconnaissance community.

Consequently, there are three recognised pathways to becoming a US Marine Corps Reconnaissance Marine:

  1. Enlist as a Civilian (completing basic infantry training and apply for MOS 0321);
  2. Enlist while in the US Marine Corps and apply for a transfer; or
  3. 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     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 (USMC, 2015a):

  • Be a US citizen.
  • Able to obtain a Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) security clearance.
  • Complete Physical Fitness Test (PFT) (Section 2.6):
  • Complete Water Survival (WS) (Section 2.7):
  • Medical:
    • Have 20/200 near visual acuity or visual acuity not to exceed 20/400 with a completed PRK eye surgery.
    • Normal colour vision is recommended, but not required provided the candidate can complete a vivid red and vivid green recognition test.
    • Medically qualified to perform jump and combatant dive qualifications.
    • Lateral move enlisted and officer candidates must have completed a Naval Special Warfare/Special Operations physical prior to BRC.
  • Be a volunteer!

2.2     General Requirements and Eligibility for Officer Candidates

Additional criteria for EGR officer candidates include (USMC, 2015b):

  • Must complete MOS requirements to be an infantry officer.
  • Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) security clearance eligibility.

2.3     General Requirements and Eligibility for Enlisted Candidates

Additional criteria for enlisted candidates include (USMC, 2015b):

  • Have a minimum General Technical (GT) score on the ASVAB of 105 for MOS 0321.
  • No page 11 entries in Service Record Book (lateral move candidates).
  • 18-months, minimum, remaining on current enlistment contract upon completion of the Basic Reconnaissance Course (BRC).

2.4     General Requirements and Eligibility for US Navy Candidates

Reconnaissance battalions require reconnaissance qualified medical personnel (US Navy Corpsmen) who are trained and certified to perform paramedical skills under austere combat conditions. These Fleet Marine Force reconnaissance corpsmen and Fleet Marine Force reconnaissance independent duty corpsmen (IDCs) are referred to as special amphibious reconnaissance corpsmen. They are trained to the same degree as the reconnaissance Marines within the unit’s reconnaissance platoons. Although capable of filling leadership billets within the platoon and company, reconnaissance corpsmen and IDCs are not typically employed in this manner due to their primary duties as a healthcare providers.

Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) Code:

  • 8403 Fleet Marine Force Reconnaissance Independent Duty Corpsman.
  • 8427 Fleet Marine Force Reconnaissance Corpsman.

2.5     Physical Fitness Test

All candidates must complete the US Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (PFT) which is utilised as an initial physical screening tool that must be passed in order to start training.

The PFT consists of three events:

  • Perform dead-hang pull-ups (no time limit);
  • Abdominal crunches (two-minute time limit); and
  • A 3-mile run.

Candidates are required to attain progressively better PFT scores as they progress through the reconnaissance training pipeline (USMC, 2015b):

  • Entry-level and lateral move Marines must obtain a 2nd Class score of 200 on the PFT to start the BRC.
  • During Phase I of the BRC, candidates will be required to achieve a 1st Class score of 225 on the PFT.
  • Upon graduation of BRC, candidates will be required to achieve a 1st Class score of 250 on the PFT.

2.6     Water Survival

Water survival training is part of the Marine Corps Water Survival Training Programme (MCWSTP), consisting of five levels as outlined in Table 1.

Table 1: Water survival qualification levels
Level Description
 Unqualified (WS-U)
  • Does not meet minimum standard.
Basic (WS-B)
  • Meets minimum standard.
  • Possesses the rudimentary skills required to survive a water-borne mishap.
Basic Plus (WS-B (+))
  • Meets minimum standard and demonstrates aptitude for WS-Intermediate by passing all WS-B events on the first attempt and without remediation.
  • WS-B (+) is an Administrative Qualification Level only, assignable only at MCRD Parris Island, MCRD San Diego, and The Basic School.
  • Marines desiring a lateral move into a MOS requiring a MCWSTP qualification level beyond WS-B must meet the MOS requirement outlined in MCO 1200.17A to achieve the MOS prior to making a lateral move.
Intermediate (WS-I)
  • Exceeds minimum standard.
  • Enhanced water survival skills providing commanders whose mission profile places Marines frequently around water training or MOS requirement option.
  • Maintaining WS-I qualification requires qualifying at current MCWSTP level prior to expiration.
Advanced (WS-A)
  • Advanced swimmer capable of rescuing swimmers in an aquatic environment.WS-A qualified Marines do not receive additional First Aid training as part of MCWSTP.
  • The WS-A qualification is the minimum qualification level that provides the requisite skills required for unit commander’s risk mitigation when conducting training not directly linked to MCWSTP in and around water obstacles.
Source: USMC, 2010

Table 2 provides an outline of the events undertaken for each qualification level.

Table 2: Swim survival events by qualification
Event Basic Intermediate Advanced
Execute 25 metre swim X    
Conduct self-rescue X X X
Stay on the surface X X  
Conduct gear shed X X  
Employ flotation gear X X  
Conduct buddy assists (passive victim)   X  
Conduct buddy assist (active victim)   X  
Perform survival strokes     X
Rescue victim     X
Source: USMC, 2014

Candidates must have WS-I or higher qualification, however, entry-level Marines must possess WS-B (+) as a minimum to start the BRC.


3.0     Reconnaissance Selection and Training Phases

The journey to becoming a member of the US Marine Corps reconnaissance community 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 reconnaissance training programme is the selection and training process for all candidates wishing to join the US Marine Corps’ reconnaissance community as a Reconnaissance Marine, EGR officer or SARC.

All candidates will undertake a number of distinct stages of training (Table 3), 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 3: Reconnaissance training pipeline
Stage Programme Sub-course-Element Duration
Preparation Enlistment or Commissioning Process Variable
Basic Military Training or Officer Candidate School Variable
Basic Infantry Training Variable
Assessment Basic Reconnaissance Primer Course 5 weeks
Accession Training (AT) Basic Reconnaissance Course 12 weeks
Source: USMC, 2016

USMC, Reconnaissance, Training, Water Survival, Passing BricksThe skills and knowledge gained during this programme of training includes:

  • Combat swimming;
  • Small boat operations;
  • Close combat skills;
  • Helicopter insertion/extraction techniques;
  • Assault climbing;
  • Demolitions;
  • Forward observer procedures for supporting arms;
  • Initial Terminal Guidance (ITG) operations for heliborne, airborne and waterborne forces;
  • Long-range communications;
  • Imagery collections;
  • Threat weapons and equipment identification; and
  • Ground reconnaissance, underwater reconnaissance, and amphibious reconnaissance and surveillance operations.

3.1     Training Hierarchy

USMC, Reconnaissance, Reconnaissance Training Company, RTC (2)The reconnaissance assessment, selection and training process is delivered by the Reconnaissance Training Company (RTC) which is located at Camp Pendleton, California, and is commanded by a Major (OF-3). The RTC is also responsible for training Scout Snipers.

The RTC is a unit of the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion (AITB), commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4). In turn, the AITB is part of the USMCs School of Infantry, and is divided into two elements:

  • School of Infantry West (SOI-W): located at Camp Pendleton, California, and commanded by a Colonel (OF-5).
  • School of Infantry East (SOI-E): located at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and commanded by a Colonel (OF-5).

The SOI-W is part of the USMC Training Command, commanded by a Brigadier General (OF-6).

The purpose of the RTC is to train ground reconnaissance Marines in entry level and advanced reconnaissance skills, and is responsible for delivering the following courses (USMC, 2015c):

  • Marines Awaiting Reconnaissance Training (MART) (defunct);
  • Basic Reconnaissance Primer Course (BRPC);
  • Basic Reconnaissance Course (BRC);
  • Reconnaissance Team Leaders Course (RTLC), developed in 2009 (Fuentes, 2015); and
  • Reconnaissance Unit Leaders Course (RULC), developed in 2009 (Fuentes, 2015).

3.2     Basic Infantry Course

All entry-level candidates must complete the Basic Infantry Course delivered by the USMC School of Infantry, located at either Camp Pendleton in California or Camp Lejeune in North Carolina (USMC, 2015a & 2015b).

Prior to 2015, all candidates were required to attend the Basic Infantryman Course (0300) followed by the Infantry Rifleman Course (0311) (USMC, 2012). However, by 2015 USMC policy stated “All Entry-level Marines must successfully complete the Basic Infantry Course (0300) of instruction and BRPC. Non-infantry desiring lateral move will complete BRPC only, prior to attending the Basic Reconnaissance Course (M10AHK2).” (USMC, 2015b, p.3-47).

3.3     Basic Reconnaissance Primer Course

USMC, Reconnaissance, Training, Water SurvivalAll entry-level and lateral move candidates must attend the Basic Reconnaissance Primer Course (BRPC) delivered by the RTC at Camp Pendleton, California (USMC, 2015a, 2015b, 2016).

The 5 week BRPC was introduced in 2014 in order to decrease the attrition rate during training, as part of a general rebranding exercise for the reconnaissance community (Fuentes, 2015) and due to a fatal incident (Kovach 2014). Candidates are now given 2-5 days as part of a check-in process to conduct administration and to acclimatise before beginning the BRPC, which replaced the Marines Awaiting Reconnaissance Training Platoon (Section 3.4) (Kovach, 2014).

Training during the BRPC includes:

  • Knowledge of knots;
  • Physical training and combat conditioning;
  • Mountaineering skills and management of mountaineering equipment; and
  • Swimming and water survival training.

The BRPC combines lecture, demonstration and practical application with both written and performance evaluation. The BRPC is a high intensity course with the primary focus being physical preparation for Basic Reconnaissance Course, specifically developing aquatic competency and physical endurance.

Successful completion of the BRPC is a prerequisite for the Basic Reconnaissance Course.

“With the creation of the Basic Recon Primer Course, we’ve seen our attrition in BRC decrease, so BPRC is actually working,” said Quinn. The schoolhouse averaged about a 35 percent graduation rate, and “sometimes it was at 80 percent attrition. Since the inception of BRPC, we now average about an 82 percent graduation rate in BRC.” (Fuentes, 2015).

Way before the introduction of the BRPC, the initial step in the process to become a reconnaissance Marine was the Recon Selection (also known the Screening Board or Recon Indoctrination). The 48 hour Recon Selection was required by all candidates for Radio Recon, Scout Sniper, Division Recon and Force Recon, testing combat swimming skills, physical stamina and endurance. Each Recon unit conducted its own distinct selection process.

In 2012, USMC policy stated that “Marines are no longer required to pass a reconnaissance screening conducted by a reconnaissance unit.” (USMC, 2012, p.2).

3.4     Marines Awaiting Reconnaissance Training

USMC, Reconnaissance, Basic Reconnaissance Course, BRC 7-13Prior to 2014, candidates who met the general requirements and eligibility for the reconnaissance role would attend a 4 week assessment and selection process known as Marines Awaiting Reconnaissance Training (MART) (Kovach, 2014; USMC, 2015c).

The purpose of the MART Platoon (or MART process) was to identify and gauge the potential of candidates to meet the physical and mental demands imposed on Reconnaissance Marines during training and combat operations.

The MART process was delivered by the RTC and was composed of two elements:

  • MART Assessment: The MART Assessment was used to evaluate the potential of a candidate in their combat swimming skills, physical stamina and character traits. Upon successful completion of the MART Assessment, a candidate would commence the MART Selection.
  • MART Selection: During the MART Selection, a candidate’s performance during the MART Assessment was reviewed, including an interview and verification that they met all the prerequisites for the MOS 0321 or MOS 0307. Enlisted candidates were interviewed by the SNCOs of the RTC and officer candidates were interviewed by the company commander and SNCOs of the RTC.

The MART process included:

  • The Basic Reconnaissance Swim Screener consisted of five events: 500 metre swim; 25 metre underwater swim; rifle retrieval from a depth of 15 feet; 25 metre rifle tow; and tower entry with 30 minute water tread.
  • Classroom instruction;
  • Physical training;
  • Physical assessment (Section 2.6); and
  • Introduction to critical reconnaissance skills.

If a candidate failed any portion of the MART Assessment, they may have been encouraged to remain in the MART process and continue to prepare themselves for MART Selection, although this was at the discretion of the RTC instructor staff. However, any candidate could voluntarily withdrawal (VW) themselves at any time during the MART process. If a Marine voluntarily left the MART process, they could not return for a period of 24 months.

If a candidate was selected, they began the Basic Reconnaissance Course.

3.5     Basic Reconnaissance Course

USMC, Reconnaissance, Drop on Request, DOR, Recon Sling RopesThe purpose of the BRC is to train Marines, in addition to other Services, in the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and individual skills required of a Reconnaissance Marine (USMC, 2016).

The initial screening for all candidates on day one of training includes (USMC, 2016):

  • Physical fitness test: candidates must achieve a 1st Class score of 250 or more.
  • Swim screening (wearing military uniform, no boots):
    • 500 metre un-timed swim (breast stroke or sidestroke only).
    • 25 metre underwater swim (cannot break the surface).
    • 12-15 feet deep weapon (rubber rifle) retrieval and 10 metre tow.
    • Enter water from a height of 8-15 feet using the abandon ship technique and then tread water for 30 minutes.

Training during the BRC includes:

  • Reconnaissance doctrine, concepts and techniques with emphasis on:
    • Individual and team reconnaissance skills.
    • Amphibious reconnaissance operations, including entry and extraction.
    • Beach reconnaissance;
    • Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft (CRRC) operator and coxswain skills.
    • Ground reconnaissance patrolling and surveillance skills (using field and underwater cameras).
  • Communications (radio and satellite);
  • Land and nautical navigation;
  • Supporting arms;
  • Rough terrain skills;
  • Patrolling information reporting;
  • Scout swimmer techniques; and
  • Physical training.

This training is delivered in three distinct phases:

  • Phase 1: Reconnaissance Individual and Special Skills.
  • Phase 2: Individual and Team Open-Ocean Amphibious Skills.
  • Phase 3: Team Communications and Patrolling Skills.

At the start of training, candidates are issued a 12-foot (3.7 m) rope and must tie knots as instructed by their instructors, which may be requested at any time during training (day or night). Due to this practice, candidates are often known as ‘ropers’. The term ropers was borrowed from the Reconnaissance Indoctrination Platoon (or Indoc Platoon), which was replaced in 2004.

3.6     Advanced Training

USMC, Reconnaissance, Recon InstructorAll platoon members should have the following qualifications (USMC, 2015c):

  • Basic Airborne Course: Fort Benning, Georgia.
  • Marine Combatant Diver (MCD) Course: US Navy Salvage and Training Centre, Naval Support Activity Panama City, Florida.
  • Military Free-Fall parachutist.
  • SERE (survival, evasion, resistance and escape) Level C Training.

A platoon should have a variety of personal qualifications within the reconnaissance teams and HQ team including (USMC, 2015c):

  • Scout Sniper.
  • Jump Master: Fort Benning, Georgia.
  • US Army Pathfinder: Fort Benning, Georgia.
  • US Army Ranger: Fort Benning, Georgia.
  • Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), minimum of one per platoon.
  • Joint Fires Observe (JFO), minimum of one per team.

3.7     Graduation

Upon graduation, enlisted candidates are designated Reconnaissance Marines and awarded the 0321 MOS. The MOS of 0307 is awarded to officer candidates.

Reconnaissance Marines can stay with the reconnaissance community for the duration of their US Marine Corps career.


4.0     Summary

The Reconnaissance Marine and Expeditionary Ground Reconnaissance Officer branches are open to all male and female officer and enlisted personnel of the US Marine Corps, and select members of the US Navy. Reconnaissance training seeks to attract determined, highly-motivated, intelligent, reliable and physically fit individuals to serve with the US Marine Corps’ Reconnaissance community. This article provides the basic information to allow individuals to make an informed judgement before applying for Reconnaissance training.

4.1     TV Documentaries

First aired in August 2010, ‘Surviving the Cut’ was a 12-part, two season series for the Discovery Channel that followed elite and special forces trainees from across the US military during their training programmes.

  • Season 1, Episode 3 ‘US Marine Recon’, first aired in September 2010, followed trainees during their indoctrination phase of US Marine Reconnaissance training. Marines were pushed to the point of unconsciousness in the pool and had to wrestle with 90lb packsin the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean. One in three didn’t make the cut.

A fascinating insight, and eye-opening experience, into the selection and training process for one of the US military’s Special Operations Forces units. You WILL feel the pain after watching the physical and mental challenges these candidates are faced with.

4.2     Useful Documents and Articles

  • Marine Corps Interim Publication (MCIP):
    • MCIP 3-02.01 – Marine Corps Water Survival (24 September 2010); temporarily replaced
    • MCRP 3-02C between 2010 and 2015.
  • Marine Corps Warfighting Publication (MCWP):
    • MCWP 2-4 – Marine Air-Ground Task Force Intelligence Dissemination.
    • MCWP 2-15.3 – Ground Reconnaissance (28 March 2000).
    • MCWP 2-25 – Ground Reconnaissance Operations (25 November 2015).
    • MCWP 3-35. 3 – Military Operations on Urbanised Terrain (MOUT) (26 April 1998).
    • MCWP 3-43.1 – Raid Operations (23 December 2002).
  • Marine Corps Reference Publication (MCRP):
    • MCRP 2-25A – Reconnaissance Reports Guide (13 July 2004).
    • MCRP 3-0A – Unit Training Management Guide (25 November 1996).
    • MCRP 3-0B – How to Conduct Training (25 November 1996).
    • MCRP 3-02C – Marine Combat Water Survival (02 February 2015).
  • Marine Corps Orders (MCO):
    • MCO 1500.52D – Marine Corps Water Survival Training Programme (MCWSTP) (10 November 2010).
    • MCO 1553.2B – Management of Marine Corps Formal Schools & Training Detachments (01 April 2011).
    • MCO 1553.3A – Unit Training Management (UTM) (22 January 2004).
    • MCO 3500.27B, With ERRATUM – Operational Risk Management (ORM) (05 May 2004).
    • MCO P3500.72A – Marine Corps Ground Training & Readiness Programme (18 April 2005).
    • MCO P3500.73 – Reconnaissance Training & Readiness Manual (07 October 2004).
  • Navy Marine Corps (NAVMC):
    • NAVMC 1200.1A, With Change 1 – Military Occupational Specialties Manual (08 September 2015).
    • NAVMC 3500.16 – Light Armour Reconnaissance Training & Readiness Manual (21 June 2007).
    • NAVMC 3500.41B – Training Military Occupational Specialties Training & Readiness Manual: Chapter 6 – Marine Corps Water Survival Training Programme Events (14 October 2014).
    • NAVMC 3500.44B – Infantry Training & Readiness Manual (30 August 2013).
    • NAVMC 3500.55A – Reconnaissance Training & Readiness Manual (25 March 2010): established Ground Combat Element training standards.
    • NAVMC 3500.55B – Reconnaissance Training & Readiness Manual (29 May 2013): establishes training standards, regulations, and practices regarding the training of Marines and assigned Navy personnel in Marine Corps RECON Battalions or Force RECON Companies.
  • Articles:

4.3     Useful Links

4.4     References

Fuentes, G. (2015) Marine Recon Rebrands: ‘All It Takes Is All You Got’. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2015/06/01/marine-corps-reconnaissance-new-branding-recruiting-campaign/28094363/. [Accessed: 14 April, 2016].

Pellerin, C. (2015) SecDef Opens all Military Occupations to Women. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.therecruiterjournal.com/secdef-opens-all-military-occupations-to-women.html. [Accessed: 04 December, 2015].

US Army (2004) FM 1-02 – Operational Terms and Graphics. Washington, D.C.: HQ, Department of the Army.

USMC (United States Marine Corps) (2010) MCO 1500.52D – Marine Corps Water Survival Training Programme (MCWSTP). Dated 10 November 2010.

USMC (United States Marine Corps) (2012) 0321 – Reconnaissance Man Lateral Move Policy and Procedures and Prerequisites That Apply To All Potential Candidates. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.tecom.marines.mil/Portals/127/Docs/AITB/BRC%20Lateral%20Move%20Policy%20and%20Prerequisites.doc. [Accessed: 14 April, 2016].

USMC (United States Marine Corps) (2015a) MOS Manual. Available from World Wide Web: http://mosmanual.com/pages/search.php. [Accessed: 13 April, 2016].

USMC (United States Marine Corps) (2015b) NAVMC 1200.1A – Military Occupational Specialties Manual. Change 1. Dated 08 September 2015.

USMC (United States Marine Corps) (2015c) MCWP 2-25 – Ground Reconnaissance Operations. Dated 25 November 2015.

USMC (United States Marine Corps) (2016) Reconnaissance Training Company. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.trngcmd.marines.mil/Units/West/SOIW/AdvancedInfantryTrainingBattalion/RTC.aspx. [Accessed: 16 April, 2016].

USMC (Unites States Marine Corps) (2014) NAVMC 3500.41B – Training Military Occupational Specialties Training and Readiness Manual. Chapter 6 – Marine Corps Water Survival Training Programme Events. Dated 14 October 2014.

Vogel, J.L. (2015) Statement of General Joseph L. Vogel, U.S. Army Commander United States Special Operations Command before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, March 18, 2015. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.socom.mil/Documents/2015%20USSOCOM%20Posture%20Statement.pdf. [Accessed: 29 December, 2015].