Marines have always been known as the few and the proud. But on Friday, the Marine Corps took its first steps toward assembling a group of warriors even fewer and prouder as part of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Operating under the name Detachment One, this elite 86-man unit "if it passes muster" will be in a league of its own alongside the Navy Seals, Army Green Berets and Rangers, and the Air Force's Special Operation Command.
The commando unit, housed at the Camp Del Mar Boat Basin, will consist of a headquarters, reconnaissance, intelligence and fire-support elements organized, trained and equipped to carry out special reconnaissance, direct-action, limited foreign internal defense and coalition support missions, much like their sister special operations forces. Although the missions are similar throughout the armed forces, Detachment One will take advantage of Marine-specific strengths in task organization, small-unit leadership and the application of combined arms, officials said.
Last fall, top Pentagon officials began pouring through more than 500 record books, ultimately hand-picking 81 Marines and five Navy corpsmen to form the detachment. The unit consists of seasoned sergeants, staff noncommissioned officers and officers. Lt. Col. Robert J. Coates, a highly regarded infantry officer with a reconnaissance background, will command Detachment One.
"This is a phenomenal group of Marines," said Lt. Col. Giles Kyser, head of the Marine Air Ground Task Force special operations section of Plans, Policy and Operations at Headquarters Marine Corps. "This is the pinnacle of their military professions."
When the Pentagon formed the U.S. Special Operations Command in 1987, the Marine Corps chose to march to the beat of its own drum, developing a training program to make their amphibious Marine Expeditionary Units "special operations capable." After six months of rigorous training, those units are tested on each MEU-specific mission to earn their "SOC" qualification months before their six-month deployment, certifying them for roughly two dozen specialized missions, including embassy evacuations, airfield seizures and downed pilot rescues within six hours of notice.
But ultimately, the need for a smaller, more permanent special force in the spirit of the World War II Raiders gave birth to Detachment One.
The Raiders were banded together to seize key hills and beaches in guerrilla-style strikes against Japanese forces. Disbanded two years after they were created, the Raiders wrote an important page in the history of what are now known as Special Operations forces.
Members of the Raiders were on hand for Friday's activation ceremony.
"I'm ecstatic that we are living and watching the rebirth of the Marine Raiders," said Chuck Meacham, president of the Marine Raiders Association, proudly sporting the Raiders skull insignia.
Detachment One has begun its rigorous training regime and will be "closely watched and evaluated along the way," said Kyser.
"In this profession, second place is last place, so we are going to make sure we do it right," he said.
After the evaluation period, Detachment One will fall under Naval Special Warfare Squadron One. The detachment is expected to begin training with a Navy SEAL team in October and subsequently deploy in April.
After the ceremony, family members and visitors got hands-on with the specialized gear Detachment One will use.
Members say they can't wait to get cracking on their new assignment.
"When I got the call and found I was chosen to be a part of Detachment One, I was so excited to get on the ground and start running," said Sgt. Branden W. Barnett, a topographic intelligence analyst. "I'm striving to give the detachment the real time intel they will need."