Marine Raiders, the First, the Best, Have Returned

By Thomas E. Cheever, P.E.

Drawing upon the exemplary history and performance of an elite Marine force in World War II, MARSOC, or  Marine Special Operations Command, will now be known as Raiders.

marine raiders

MARSOC has officially been renamed the Marine Raiders


Hollywood makes movies about Navy SEALs.  John Wayne and Jim Hutton will forever be Army Green Berets.  But MARSOC?  Outside of the Corps, who’s heard of  MARSOC?

First established more over 10 years ago to combat the global war on terrorism, MARSOC is the Marine component of the United States Special Operations Command which includes elite units from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.


WWII Raiders

On December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt and America were thrust into war.  It was FDR that first suggested creating an American counterpart to the British Commandos.  Formed from the 2nd Marine Division, then Marine Commandant Major General Thomas Holcomb,  resisted any special name or designation stating,

“the term ‘Marine’ is sufficient to indicate a man ready for duty at any time, and the injection of a special name, such as ‘Commando,’ would be undesirable and superfluous.”

But yielding to pressure from the White House, General Holcomb established the 1st Separate Battalion commanded by Lt. Col Edson and the 2nd Separate Battalion commanded by Lt. Col Carlson.

Quickly known as Edson’s Raiders and Carlson’s Raiders, the elite units conducted special amphibious light infantry warfare, particularly in landing in rubber boats and operating behind the lines. Raiders saw action on the Solomon Islands campaign, Guadalcanal and even made assaults on Makin Island, covertly inserted by submarine under cover of night.


Carlson’s Raiders WWII

Raider battalions were disbanded on 8 January 1944.  The changing nature of the war in the Pacific, with many large-scale amphibious assaults to come against well-defended islands, negated the requirements for small light units that could strike deep into enemy territory.

Marine Raiders under both Edson and Carlson are regarded as the first United States special operations forces, the precursor to today’s SEALS, Green Berets, Delta Force, Rangers and others.


In a renaming ceremony on Friday at Camp Lejeune North Carolina,  Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) momentarily deactivated its eight subordinate units, reactivating them immediately with new names and new battle colors bearing the Raiders’ name.

Marine Charles Meacham, 89, was there to witness the renaming.  Marine Meacham served 2 years during WWII as a Raider in the Pacific.  Meacham said,

“It’s a great honor to have this lineage carried forward.  Now MARSOC’s carrying on the legacy of the Raiders. It’s a Marine tradition.”

Ben Connable, a retired Marine officer,  is a military and intelligence analyst at the nonprofit research agency RAND Corporation.  Connable noted that similar to other Spec Ops forces,  special operations Marines carry out raids on insurgents or terrorists, conduct deep reconnaissance and train foreign military.  Connable said,

“Whereas most people in the American public probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you what MARSOC stood for, ‘Raider’ will jump off the page.”

But he acknowledges the designation initially had strong resistance.  Much like General Holcomb’s concerns during WWII,  the Marine’s “esprit de corps”  includes the concept that all members are elite to begin with. Connable said,

“The whole idea of ‘special Marines’ is unpalatable to Marines in general.”

MARSOC Marines, now Raiders, must pass a selection process that includes grueling swims and hikes, as well as specialized combat training.

Still, Connable believes the resurrection of the Raider name is a positive move because it will tie a group set apart from the rest of the branch into the history of some of the most famous Marines.  Connable continued,

“What the name ‘Raider’ does, it harkens back to the legacy that the Marine Corps has latched onto and has drawn a lot from, both in an esoteric and practical sense. It is a remarkable legacy.”

Welcome back Raiders.