Marine Raiders recently completed a series of pre-deployment training exercises in Tennessee in the spring of 2021. The RAVEN exercises are used by Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) to train and evaluate Marine Special Operations Companies (MSOC) and Marine Special Operations Teams (MSOT). The exercises present the Marine Raider units the opportunity to prove their proficiency in a large number of skill sets that may be employed during future deployments.
The Exercise RAVEN training is conducted every spring and fall at various locations throughout the United States. Usually they are conducted in the Kentucky-Tennessee or the Gulf Coast regions. Typically the spring and fall events each have 3 cycles, for a total of six RAVEN exercises a year. Each cycle is about ten days long – putting one Marine Special Operations Company and its Marine Special Operations Teams through the training. There are times that a battalion-sized unit plays in the exercise – once in the spring and once in the fall. These battalion-sized units usually are a MARSOC battalion or Army Special Forces battalion. These battalions are in the role of a higher headquarters with command and control (C2) of the MSOC and some additional notional SOF units and many times are undergoing predeployment training as well. When a SOF battalion is not physically present for the exercise then a notional higher headquarters is stood up for C2 of the MSOC. From time to time other SOF units will also participate in the exercise – such as a Special Forces operational detachment.
In addition to the MSOC and MSOTs, the exercises have supporting and enabling units and individuals participating. Marines from various units of the Fleet Marine Force participate in the training. For one of the exercises conducted this spring Marines with Force Reconnaissance Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion were in a supporting role. The Reconnaissance Marines provided persistent near real-time ground reconnaissance and battlespace shaping capability utilizing various insertion and extraction techniques to include military freefall parachuting. 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment also supported the RAVEN exercise – some playing the role of partner-nation forces.
Photo: U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment (3/2), 2d Marine Division, and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), board a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook as a part of Exercise Raven 2-21 in Nashville, Tenn., May 21, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Patrick King)
In one training cycle this past spring U.S. Army Special Forces provided a contingent that acted as peer-to-peer competition. The SF element was gathering intelligence on the Marine Raiders and attempting to disrupt the MSOC’s operations. The Special Forces unit employed surveillance, counter surveillance, and electronic warfare tactics as well as other special forces operational tactics and techniques.
The RAVEN exercise has a number of vignettes that cover a broad range of operations – to include interoperability with partner nation forces, interagency coordination, and joint operations. The scenario of the exercise places the Marine Raiders on a long deployment in a notional country, working with a partner nation force. The MSOC and MSOTs are presented with a number of situations that require intelligence gathering, information operations, training host-nations forces, direct action, raids, reconnaissance, and interagency coordination. The fully-enabled MSOTs are able to exercise almost all of their special operations capabilities during the exercise. Some of the enablers working with the MSOC and MSOTs include intelligence specialists, canine teams, and explosive ordnance technicians. The exercise is supported by other military units to include aviation assets, drones, and more.
The RAVEN exercise was started in 2012 and has become increasingly complex over the past several years. The exercise is typically the last in a series of training evolutions in a six-month long training cycle that a Marine Raider company will execute to prepare for an overseas deployment. The exercise is supported by other Marine Corps units as well as a robust Exercise Control Group and mentor-evaluators.
Photo: U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment (3/2), 2d Marine Division, provide security during Exercise Raven 2-21 in Nashville, Tenn., May 22, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Patrick King)
Before assignment to a Raider unit Marines must successfully complete the MARSOC assessment and selection course. They then attend a 7-month long Individual Training Course (ITC) with 4 phases: basic skills, small unit tactics, close quarter battle, and irregular warfare. The ITC culminates with “Operation Derna Bridge” which requires the students to use all the skills mastered throughout the course. A video produced for MARSOC (2012, 4 mins) provides a brief introduction to the training and mission of the operators of the Marine Raider units.
After graduating from ITC the Marines are designated Critical Skills Operators or Special Operations Officers. They are capable of executing complex, distributed operations in uncertain environments. The Marine Raider companies are enabled by support Marines who attend advanced training and schools that prepare them to serve as Special Operations Capability Specialists or SOCS.
MARSOC recently celebrated its 15th anniversary in February 2021. At that time the Marine Corps combined several specialized units to establish MARSOC. The establishment of MARSOC is discussed in a video by the Global SOF Foundation.
Exercise RAVEN is a key training event that tests the Marine Special Operations Company and Marine Special Operations Teams in their level of proficiency to accomplish their mission. The exercise has evolved over the past few years in light of the shift in focus of the U.S. military from counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations to ‘great power competition’. The exercise prepares units that are deploying in support of Theater Special Operations Commands and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Forces across the globe.
Top Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Jeffrey Profitt Jr., a rifleman, and Lance Cpl. Ethan Sheffey, a mortarman, both with 3rd Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment (3/2), 2d Marine Division, patrol through technical terrain during Exercise Raven in Nashville, Tenn., May 29, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Patrick King)
References: Some of the information in this article came from “Full Spectrum: Marine Raiders Certified for Deployment Through RAVEN Exercise”, by Cpl. Brennan Priest, Marine Forces Command, 23 June 2021. Additional information acquired through DoD media outlets and other open source media platforms.
Video: Watch Full Spectrum: Marine Raiders Certified for Deployment Through RAVEN Exercise. Video produced by MARSOC, June 28, 2021, 3 minutes.