MARSOC’s Cognitive Raider Symposium June 2023

Marines with Hotel Company, 2nd Raider Battalion, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, carry a Zodiac Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat into the surf at Onslow Beach on base, March 28, 2017. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Corinne Zilnicki, U.S Coast Guard).

Story by Maj. Mathhew Finnerty, MARSOC.

The Cognitive Raider – a foundational concept established with the development and publication of Marine Special Operations Forces 2030 – encompasses the requirement to develop qualities of intellect, judgement, creativity, and teamwork in future Marine Raiders while maintaining the determination and endurance which serve as hallmarks of current success. MARSOF 2030 identified four innovation pathways including the Cognitive Raider, which applies both to the individual and the collective capabilities of the team. It also serves as a challenging imperative as thinking Marine Raiders provide the foundation for developing and sustaining a learning organization like Marine Forces Special Operations Command.

While MARSOC continues to examine, improve, and validate its training to provide high-performing MARSOF, the command also began an annual educational symposium to advance critical and creative thinking around topics vital to the future operating environment. The inaugural Cognitive Raider Symposium took place in 2019 when Marine Raiders partnered with the Naval Postgraduate School’s Defense Analysis Department to examine irregular warfare. Since the first symposium, MARSOC partnered with NPS on subsequent themes covering great power competition and enterprise-level agility as the yearly topic changed to align with current MARSOC, Special Operations Command, Marine Corps, and Department of Defense initiatives.

This year’s fifth iteration scheduled for June 22, 2023, explores What Winning Looks Like in integrated deterrence. The main symposium serves as a culmination of several events throughout the past year including education seminars led by the U.S. Agency for International Development, former Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, and Army special forces veteran John Stryker Meyer. These quarterly events brought together historical perspectives, interagency partners, and distinguished visitors while ensuring Marine Raiders remain engaged throughout the year regardless of their ability to attend the main symposium.

“The ‘warm-start’ events facilitated a culture of learning throughout the year by exposing our Marine Raiders to experts, opinions, and concepts from across a spectrum of topics valuable to special operations and directly linked to What Winning Looks Like,” said the CRS ‘23 lead planner. “As an ambidextrous organization, accomplishing the mission today while experimenting and innovating for future success, MARSOC must focus on unique education opportunities to diversify our way of thinking and provide the most capable MARSOF in support of SOCOM and the joint force.”

What Winning Looks Like encompasses a holistic evaluation of future missions and requirements for MARSOF and how MARSOC positions itself to prepare its personnel to succeed in a rapidly evolving global security environment. For the command, this includes the further implementation of strategic shaping and reconnaissance and development of littoral irregular warfare and littoral special reconnaissance to ensure MARSOC remains relevant in littoral special operations. Given the urgency to modernize the force in anticipation of that future, What Winning Looks Like contains implications for short and long-term capabilities, organization, missions, and partnerships of significant interest to Marine Raiders and SOF overall.

To explore, evaluate, and innovate with regard to MARSOC’s posture to win now and in the future, CRS ‘23 will include education sessions, keynote speakers, and discussion panels focused on What Winning Looks Like. Structured to provide value for all MARSOC personnel, including service members, civilians, and contractors of all ranks, the symposium will prove valuable to participants from SOCOM and the Marine Corps as well.

“Marine Raiders, and our partners across the SOCOM enterprise, will leave CRS ‘23 with a more robust understanding of MARSOC’s contributions to winning in the future as well as experiencing the opportunity to directly impact that future state,” said the lead planner. “Each year that we host this event, and the numerous events leading up to the symposium, ensures that our people foster a creative and critical-thinking mindset while expanding the aperture of knowledge at the lowest levels.”

In addition, the symposium will take time to recognize the winners of the Cognitive Raider essay contest which asks authors to examine topics including how MARSOC contributes to winning as part of SOCOM, how organizational culture contributes to future success, and what initiatives best posture the command to address upcoming operational requirements. Past winners came from across the ranks of MARSOC and the symposium allowed authors to present transformational ideas to the larger force.

The Cognitive Raider concept and its supporting educational and training events such as CRS ‘23 directly contribute to the First SOF Truth – humans are more important than hardware. As MARSOC and SOF operate in a constantly evolving global security environment requiring urgent modernization across the force, the capabilities of a creative and strategic thinking individual provide an outsized impact on mission accomplishment and the success of the team.


This story by Maj. Matthew Finnerty, Marine Forces, Special Operations Command, was first published on March 30, 2023 by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. DVIDS content is in the public domain.

Photo: Marines with Hotel Company, 2nd Raider Battalion, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, carry a Zodiac Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat into the surf at Onslow Beach on base, March 28, 2017. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Corinne Zilnicki, U.S Coast Guard).