The State of Recon

The Marine Reconnaissance community has been through a lot in the last ten years.  Some of it has gone for the better.  A lot of it has not.

At the beginning of the war in Iraq, 1st Recon Bn was pushed into a mechanized role it wasn’t prepared for.  The men took the mission and did what they could with it, pushing ahead of 1st Marine Division on the way to Baghdad, securing important sites and looking for Iraqi forces.  1st Force, augmented by platoons from 3rd and 4th Force, was out on the flanks, supporting I MEF on the march up.

But when they redeployed, 1st Recon Bn found itself holding battlespace.  Recon Marines were put in the role of regular grunts.  Even after Recon stopped holding ground in 2005, we regularly found ourselves in similar situations, just not tied to a particular area.  Conventional Marine commanders had no idea how to employ a Reconnaissance unit.

Some of this was due to a lack of understanding.  Some of it was, and is, willful ignorance.

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One thought on “The State of Recon

  1. Frank

    I’ve been out of the service a long time but I’ll bet officer culture is still the same. And that’s the problem. Officers tend to be advocates for the big organization, not smaller elite groups that most officers (if they were honest with themselves) could never get into. Even worse, trying to get into these elite organizations, and failing, is death to your career. So most officers don’t try and often work to marginalize officers who did try and succeeded.

    The US hasn’t faced a competitor on the battlefield since Vietnam. Reconnaissance, or the lack of it, isn’t a problem. A company or two may have gotten into difficulties in Iraqi Freedom, but unlike Vietnam where entire platoons were decimated, or Korea, where entire companies ceased to exist, the cost of not having recon is almost unknown.

    This fight will go on forever, and dedicated recon organizations will always lose until Senior officers pay the price for bad ground intel. The fate of recon units in Iraqi Freedom tells it all. They fulfilled a role that any reserve army Bn could have accomplished. And then the larger organization says, “Why do we have such a highly trained instrument that does the job of a Marine infantry Bn?”

    And there is a terrible cost for this lack, even if it’s not apparent. The so-called “Operational Pause” in OIF was the direct result of General Officers getting cold feet based on no knowledge of what was in front of them (Patraeus should have been relieved for this, not promoted, but I’ll save that for another time). Satellite imagery showed nothing… and our leaders took counsel of their fears and stubbornly refused to move even though only a few Bns had been actively engaged in combat. What was supposed to be a lightning strike that rounded up the Iraqi leadership and army went full stop, which allowed the goal of the quick invasion to evaporate. And all because we didn’t know what was in front of us (and there was nothing in front of us, which eyes on would have told us). We paid in blood for that timidity later as the insurgency was formed from army officers.

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