United States Marine Corps Critical Skills Operator

Critical Skills Operators

CSO providing security in Helmand province during the War in Afghanistan
Active October 1, 2011 - Present
Country  United States of America
Branch United States Marine Corps
Type Special Operations Force
Size ~1,000[1]
Part of United States Special Operations Command
Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command
Nickname(s) Raiders

A United States Marine Corps Critical Skills Operator (CSO) is a member of the U.S. Marine Corps in the primary special operations career field for Marines assigned to United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). Marines designated Critical Skills Operators (CSOs), colloquially known as "Raiders", are awarded the Military Occupational Specialty 0372. CSOs are assigned to Marine Special Operations Teams (MSOT), Companies (MSOC) and Battalions (MSOBs).[2] CSOs are trained to execute a variety of missions. Specialized training also provides capabilities in language fluency necessary for crossing cultural barriers, allowing CSOs to connect with the local forces as well as civilians.[3] It takes, at a minimum, four and a half years to create a Marine CSO. The reason for this is that a Marine must have a minimum of three years ( or have achieved the rank of at least Corporal) in the United States Marines Corps before being considered a candidate for MARSOC.[4][5][6]

The 0372 MOS for the Critical Skills Operators was created on October 1, 2011. MARSOC's initial requirement for manning was 850 CSOs to outfit 48 fully operational Marine Special Operations Teams.[7]


After the successful MarDet 1 program the Marine Corps authorized the creation of a Marine Corps contingent at the United States Special Operations Command.[8] The new command, United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) drew substantial numbers from the Marine Corps Recon community at both the battalion level and from Force Reconnaissance Companies. Initially the career path of these Marines was similar to that of the Marines' existing Recon community; Marines were assigned to MARSOC for a period of five years after which they would be rotated to a new unit.[6] The creation of the 0372 MOS was a response to the desire of MARSOC Marines to remain at MARSOC with an MOS that would allow them a Special Operations dedicated career path.


My Title is Marine, but it is my choice and my choice alone to be a Special Operations Marine. I will never forget the tremendous sacrifice and reputation of those who came before me.

At all ranges my fires will be accurate. With surprise, speed, and violence of action, I will hunt enemies of my country and bring chaos to their doorstep. I will keep my body strong, my mind sharp, and my kit ready at all times.

Raider and Recon men forged the path I follow. With Determination, Dependability, and Teamwork I will uphold the honor and the legacy passed down to me. I will do the right thing always, and will let my actions speak for me. As a quiet professional, I will not bring shame upon myself or those with which I serve.

Spiritus Invictus, an Unconquerable Spirit, will be my goal. I will never quit, I will never surrender, I will never fail. I will adapt to the situation. I will gain and maintain the initiative. I will always go a little farther and carry more than my share.

On any battlefield, at any point of the compass I will excel. I will set the example for all others to emulate. At the tip of the spear, I will teach and prepare others to seek out, dismantle, and destroy our common enemies. I will fight side by side with my partners and will be the first in and last out of any mission.

Conquering all obstacles of mind, body, and spirit; the honor and pride of serving in special operations will be my driving force. I will remain always faithful to my brothers and always forward in my service.

CSO selection and training


CSO candidates in the A&S Preparation and Orientation Course conducting a 300m swim in preparation for A&S.

Selection of the right personnel begins with a screening process designed to identify the right Marines for the right billet within MARSOC. Operational billets are open only to males. Only those Marines wanting to serve as Critical Skills Operators, as opposed to support, must attend Assessment and Selection (A&S); however, all Marines are screened to ensure that the Marines joining MARSOC meet the established prerequisites for duty within the command. Screening takes place in 3 stages: record screening, physical screening, and a psychological and medical evaluation. Prior to A&S candidates go through the Assessment and Selection Preparation and Orientation Course (ASPOC) to prepare marines for A&S.

Assessment and selection

Once a Marine is qualified through the MARSOC Recruiter's screening process, he will be assigned to the Assessment and Selection (A&S) Program.[9]

(A&S)Phase 1

The three-week A&S Phase 1 is the first phase of selection. This phase is mostly a physical phase to see which candidates have the determination to become Marine Raiders.[10]

Aside from the physical training, which includes running, swimming and hiking, the course incorporates a mix of classroom instruction and practical application of basic Marine Corps knowledge and MARSOC and Special Operations Forces fundamentals.[10]

A&S Phase 1 completion does not guarantee selection.[10]

(A&S)Phase 2

A&S is an evaluation that enables MARSOC to identify Marines that have attributes compatible with special operations missions and the MARSOC way of life. A&S is highly competitive.[10]

Individual Training Course

An SH-60 Seahawk waits for a simulated Medical evacuation.

Marines selected for assignment as Critical Skills Operators or Special Operations Officers attend Individual Training Course (ITC), a nine-month program that builds multidimensional operators capable of operating across the full spectrum of special operations, and aware of the strategic context in which they operate.[10] The ITC is equivalent to the Army's Special Forces Q (Qualification)-Course, and SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) for Navy SEALs.[4] ITC uses a building block approach; the training rigor will systematically increase to mimic the complexity and stresses of combat. During ITC students are under constant observation from the instructors as well as their peers. ITC is broken down into four training phases:[11]

Phase 1

Phase 1 trains and evaluates students in the basic skill sets required of all special operators. Physical fitness, swimming and hand-to-hand combat are stressed in a PT program designed around endurance, functional fitness and amphibious training. This physical training program will continue throughout the course and has been designed to prepare the student for the unique demands of special operations. Field skills including: navigation, patrolling, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC). Mission planning, Fire support training and Communications round out the first phase.

Phase 2

Phase 2 builds upon the foundation of Phase 1, training the student in small boat and scout swimmer operations, crew served weapons, demolitions, photography and information collection and reporting. Students will be evaluated in two Full Mission Profile exercises “Operation Raider Spirit”, a 2-week exercise focused on patrolling and combat operations, and “Operation Stingray Fury” focused on urban and rural reconnaissance.

Phase 3

Student will be trained in rifle and pistol combat marksmanship and will then learn the tactics, techniques and procedures needed to serve as a member of a Marine Special Operations Team during assault operations. This Phase culminates in a series of full mission profile precision raids on rural and urban objectives during “Operation Guile Strike”.

Phase 4

In the final phase, students will receive instruction on Irregular Warfare operations. The course culminates with “Operation Derna Bridge”. Derna Bridge will require the student to use all of the skills mastered throughout the course while training, advising and operating with a Partner Nation / Irregular force. Newly graduated Marine special operators will be assigned to one of the three Marine Special Operations Battalions.

Language training & linguistic requirements

CSOs conducting breaching training.

All Marine Critical Skill Operators are required to undergo continual language training. However, based on ability, certain Marines will be selected for follow-on language training at an Advanced Linguistics Course. Those Marines selected for language training could face thirty-six to fifty-two weeks of school depending on the Marine's aptitude, needs of his unit, and at what stage in the deployment cycle his team is in.

Advanced training

The training of Marine Critical Skills Operators does not end with ITC. They will continue training at their assigned battalion for another 18 months. Marine Critical Skills Operators may qualify for advanced training and certifications in areas such as foreign language, and emergency medical care based on future assignments.[12] Marine Critical Skills Operators also attend the U.S. Army Airborne School and the USMC Combatant Diver Course. In addition, the MSOS offers advanced-level courses in a number of subject areas: Special Reconnaissance, Close Quarters Battle, Sniper, Breaching, weapons employment.


When DET ONE (the pilot program for MARSOC) was officially activated in 2003, there were concerns that the Marines would not have the specific weapons, body armor, optics, and other personal protective equipment required for their tasks. Much of the SOCOM gear was beyond the standard USMC equipment issue and was mission essential. The same or closely similar state-of-the-art equipment would be necessary to enable any future detachment to be interoperable and sufficiently able to conduct special operations with other SOCOM units.[13]

M4A1 Carbine

Manufactured by Colt, the M4A1 is the carbine version of the full-size M16A2 assault rifle. Designed specifically for the U.S. Special Operations Forces, it is likewise the primary weapon for MARSOC Marines. The M4A1's fire selector can be set for semi and fully automatic operation. The weapon is designed for speed of action and lightweight requirements, as is often the case for Critical Skills Operators. Its barrel is shortened to 14.5 inches, which reduces the weight while maintaining its effectiveness for quick-handling operations in the field.To make the weapon more effective, USSOCOM and the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Crane Division developed the SOPMOD Kit. Introduced in 1994, the Special Operations Peculiar MODification kit is issued to all U.S. Special Operations forces to expand on the capabilities and operation of the M4A1.

M203 Grenade Launcher

The quick attach/detach M203 mount and leaf sight, when combined with the standard M203 grenade launcher, provides additional firepower to the Critical Skills Operator, giving him both a point and area engagement capability. The most commonly used ammunition is the M406 40mm high explosive dual-purpose (HEDP) projectile. The quick attach M203 combines flexibility and lethality to the individual weapon. The M203's receiver is made of manufactured high strength forged aluminum alloy. This provides extreme ruggedness while keeping weight to a minimum.

Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR)

The Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR) is a modular assault rifle designed from the ground up with input from U.S. Special Operations Forces. Designed by FN Herstal (FNH) Group headquartered in Liège, Belgium, the SCAR is manufactured at the FN Manufacturing LLC plant in Columbia, South Carolina. The SCAR model range includes the MK 16 Mod 0 (SCAR-Light) chambered in 5.56mm, MK 17 Mod 0 (SCAR-Heavy) chambered in 7.62mm, and an enhanced grenade launcher module (officially referred to as the FN40GL, or Mk 13 Mod 0), which will be able to fire standard 40mm high-explosive dual purpose ammunitions as well as special low velocity (LV) munitions.[14] The SCAR family employ a short-stroke gas-piston system instead of the direct impingement system of the M16/M4 family. This keeps the action of the weapon cleaner as dirty combustion gasses are not returned to the action in order to cycle the weapon, as well as adding the ability to fire the weapon immediately after emerging from the water. This comes at the expense of having a much less suppressible weapon as the piston creates a loud popping sound each time the weapon is fired due to excess gas venting at the piston. The buttstock features a folding telescoping stock, as well as check height adjustment.

On 25 June 2010 SOCOM announced that it was canceling the acquisition of the SCAR-Light and removing all existing rifles from their inventory, citing the lack of enough of a performance benefit in order to justify a new rifle chambered in 5.56.[15] SOCOM began removing the SCAR-Light from their inventory at the end of 2011, and most units will have the rifle completely out of their service by the end of 2013.

Multinational Weapon Systems

Critical Skills Operators also train with different weapon systems of different origins in contrast with standard recon and force recon units. CSOs train with AKMs, L96s, HK416s, and a variety of other weapon systems in order to maintain their combat effectiveness should access to or the usability of a standard US weapon system in unavailable.


  1. 10 years of MARSOC: How the Marine Corps developed its spec ops command. MarineCorpsTimes.com. Retrieved on 2016-03-13.
  2. Critical Skills Operator Training & Selection. Americanspecialops.com. Retrieved on 2014-05-24.
  3. "MARSOC command pamphlet" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 8, 2014. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 Couch, Dick. Always Faithful, Always Forward: The Forging of a Special Operations Marine. New York: Berkley Caliber, 2014. Print.
  5. Headquarters Marine Corps. "MARADMIN 202/11". Marines.mil.
  6. 1 2 Gina Cavallaro. "Amos OKs new MOS for MARSOC". Marine Corps Times.
  7. U.S. Marines. "ITC 2-11 Graduation". marines.mil.
  8. Priddy, Maj. Wade (June 2006). "Marine Detachment 1: Opening the door for a Marine force contribution to USSOCom". Marine Corps Gazette. Marine Corps Association (June 2006): 58–59.
  9. "Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command > Units > Marine Special Operations School > Assessment Screening". Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 "Selection & Training - MARSOC Recruiting". Archived from the original on November 6, 2013. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  11. "Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command > Units > Marine Special Operations School > ITC". Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  12. "MARSOC Public Affairs". Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  13. Pushies, Fred J. MARSOC: U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command. Minneapolis: MBI Pub., 2011. Print
  14. Pike, John. "Mk 13 Enhanced Grenade Launcher Module (EGLM)". www.globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  15. "SOCOM Cancels Mk-16 SCAR - Kit Up!". 2010-06-25. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
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