Recon Battalion Overview
The Marine Recon Battalions are the eyes and ears of the Marine Divisions. Over the years they have consisted of anywhere from one to five companies, according to the perceived needs of the Division and the size of the Marine Corps at the time.
There are three active duty Recon Battalions and one Reserve. In keeping with the three Marine Divisions they support, 1st Recon Battalion is based on Camp Pendleton in California, 2nd Recon at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and 3rd on Okinawa. Elements of 4th Recon Bn are based throughout the continental US.
Recon Battalion also provides each Marine Expeditionary Unit with a Recon platoon. Each Battalion usually has a company dedicated to MEU support. At 1st Recon Bn, it was Alpha Company.
Recon Battalion is where Recon Marines get their start after the Basic Reconnaissance Course. On average, you have to serve three years or two deployments at Recon Battalion before moving on to Force or MARSOC. Team leaders tend to be Corporals or Sergeants.
Recon Battalion Missions
The primary mission of the Recon Battalion is Reconnaissance and Surveillance in support of Division operations. Starting in 2005, limited Direct Action was added to the Battalion mission, in response to the operational demands being placed on Marine Recon in Iraq.
Reconnaissance takes multiple forms, especially as the ultimate specialty of Marine Reconnaissance is Amphibious Reconnaissance. In recent years, the amphibious nature of Marine Recon has been largely handled by the MEU platoons, as the other companies have been deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan to conduct combat operations.
Amphibious Reconnaissance is primarily connected with MEU operations, as it is geared toward, first of all, finding beach landing sites suitable for MEU assets to come ashore. The Amphibious Recon team has to know what to look for to make a beach suitable for the intended purpose.
Recon teams have to be able to identify multiple routes, obstacles, and landing zones for conventional forces, and communicate the details to higher, along with any other pertinent information, to include local patterns of life, any enemy movements, etc.
Under conventional models, where there is actually a Forward Edge of the Battle Area, or FEBA, the Recon Battalions’ areas of responsibility lies out to ten kilometers past the FEBA. Under the current unconventional reality, it lies anywhere in the Area of Operations that an operational commander wants to see, without necessarily exposing his interest.
Recon Battalion History and Heritage
Marine Reconnaissance as a whole can trace its heritage back to two separate units—the Marine Raider Battalions, formed in January 1942 to fill an operational role similar to the British Royal Marine Commandos, and the 1st Marine Division’s “Observation Group,” which at the time consisted of about two officers and twenty enlisted men. In 1943, the Observation Group was expanded to 98 enlisted men, and renamed the 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance Company. After their first operational experience on Apamama Island, the company was expanded again, to 20 officers and 270 enlisted men. They continued to serve in all the major landings in the Pacific for the rest of the war.
In Korea, the Amphibious Recon Company continued to fulfill its mission, landing ahead of the Inchon landing to report on the beaches, as well as raiding tunnels and railroad lines, often as far as 40 miles inside enemy lines. Following the war, in 1953, the unit was deactivated, but reactivated as 1st Recon Battalion in 1958.
Vietnam saw the Recon Battalions continuing to search for the enemy, call fire, and conduct raids, usually heliborne. Elements of 3rd Recon Battalion were among the first US Marines to land in Vietnam, coming ashore at Da Nang. Some other notable actions were Hill 488, Operation Washington, and Operation Scott Orchard.
Recon Marines from 1st Recon Bn participated in the Battle of Khafji during Operation Desert Storm. Following Desert Storm, most of the Battalion was turned over to 1st Recon Bn (Light Armored), and the remainder was redesignated 1st Recon Company.
In 2000, 1st Recon Company was again designated 1st Recon Bn. Following 9/11, 1st Recon Bn was instrumental in the initial invasion of Iraq, returning in the spring of 2004, just as the uprising in Fallujah began to gain steam. Over the next four years, the three Recon Battalions traded off, one after the other, in Iraq. 2nd Recon Bn took by far the highest casualties, particularly in 2006.
Starting in 2008, the focus shifted to Afghanistan. 2nd Recon Bn was the first to deploy as a Battalion, followed by 3rd, then 1st in 2010. The last rotation of Recon Marines to Afghanistan was cut short in the spring of 2012, as the drawdown commenced.
Recon is now sorting itself out following the end of involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the MEUs taking center stage for employment, the Battalions are beginning to draw down, and are expected to remove at least a company each in the near future.
Recon Battalion Training
Recon training begins even before the Basic Reconnaissance Course. In previous years, each Recon Bn had its own Training Platoon, and its own Pre-BRC course, ranging from 2 to 4 weeks. Pre-BRC was essentially a very abbreviated rundown of what would be covered in BRC, with some of the physical challenges actually increased, on the logic that if you passed pre-BRC, they wouldn’t have to worry about you failing BRC and wasting everyone’s time.
Recon Battalion Organization
While the structure of Division level Recon units has changed over time, waxing and waning due to operational and organizational necessities, the present structure is of a Headquarters and Support Company, Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie Companies, and, at present, the Force Recon Company. Force is administratively still attached to the Recon Bns since being stood back up, largely because of personnel shortages in the support/enabler areas.
Each Company generally consists of three platoons (except for the Force Company, which is supposed to have up to four.) of about 25 men a piece. The platoons consist of three to four teams of five to six men, depending on operational concerns at the time, along with a command team of the Platoon Commander (a Captain), the Platoon Sergeant (a Gunnery Sergeant), the platoon corpsman, and the platoon comm chief.
The Recon Platoon is capable of working alone or with the rest of the Company or Battalion. Recon Platoons are regularly tasked to the MEU(SOC)s by themselves, and perform as the eyes and ears of the Battalion Landing Team commander for the six months at sea. Recon platoons have also been tasked out solo in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.