History

How a simple name change connects Marine special operators to their past

Given how long America has been fighting wars, one would think that special operations were among the first thing Americans developed and perfected. But it wasn't — not really. The tactics used in the Revolutionary War were considered guerrilla tactics and U.S. troops were the first to openly fire at officers.


This did not endear America to the rest of the world community.

"Unconventional" American forces engage the British in the American Revolution.

Despite this long history, America's special operations community is relatively young. During World War II, the British created their famous Commando units. Seeing this, President Franklin Roosevelt asked his military leadership for something similar to what the British were doing.

The Marine Corps was first tasked with creating such an elite group. Already the smallest branch and specialized in amphibious landings, they created two battalions: the 1st Raider Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Merritt A. "Red Mike" Edson, and the 2nd Raider Battalion, commanded by Maj. Evans Carlson.

Related: 3 key differences between Recon Marines and Marine Raiders

Each man had their own ideas on how they would command their units. For example, the 2nd Raiders had a much more relaxed posture when it came to military discipline, quickly creating unit cohesion.

Many in the Marine Corps' hierarchy didn't like the idea of a small Marine Corps unit — most believed that the Raiders did the exact same thing as the rest of the Corps. The major difference was, however, that the Raiders worked as a small force and didn't participated in big landings. In fact, they would land during the night and move into the Japanese-held territories, creating havoc, disrupting enemy supply lines, and taking them completely by surprise.

Marine Raiders on Tulagi Island.

One of the biggest successes of the Marine Raiders was how they worked in support of bigger forces — a tactic developed to perfection today by modern special operators.

The Marine Raiders were later turned into the 4th Marine Division in 1944. The Raiders were only around for two years, but are heralded as some of the best warriors in the whole Pacific Campaign. The Marine Raiders left a huge legacy for special operations in America.

In 2014, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos announced that the 1st Marine Special Operation Battalion would be renamed the 1st Raider Battalion, connecting the Raiders of the past with the Raiders of today.

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