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Stingray Mass Market Paperback – August 1, 2000
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
By Land, Sea, and Air
Lt. Gen. Herman Nickerson Jr., USMC*
Marine Corps Gazette, February 1959
Force Recon--By Land, Sea, and Air, written by, then, Brig. Gen. Herman
Nickerson, Jr., February 1959, and published in the Marine Corps Gazette,
defines the new company's mission, main tasks, and capabilities. Using an
amphibious operation ("Strongback") conducted in the Philippines in 1958,
General Nickerson explains, in depth, the concept of how the Force Recon
Company performs the task of gaining "timely" information to assist the
commander in arriving at decisions and in executing it's other vital roles
in the landings.
"The job: Reduce the Uncertainty." So wrote Brig. Gen. J. M. Masters Sr.
in the June 1958 Gazette. "Uncertainty is an ugly three-headed spook,
which will haunt the commander. . . . The spook's three heads? The enemy,
the weather, and the terrain. . . ."
To this statement of the intelligence officer's job we could add a job
description: use available tools skillfully to strip
*Credited as "The God-Father of Long-Range Reconnaissance," Lt. Gen.
General Nickerson assumed command of III MAF in March 1969. Immediately
realizing the need for reconnaissance information beyond that provided
division commanders by their respective recon battalions, he put theory to
form when he tasked 1st Force Recon Company to conduct deep patrol
operations for the MAF in June, followed by the reconstituted 3d Force
Reconnaissance Company in October of that year.--Ed.
the veils from the three-headed spook and provide the commander with the
information he needs to make a sound decision. One of the commander's best
tools, in my opinion, is the force recon company. By well-conceived
employment of this organization, many of the uncertainties can be reduced.
Only when the commander has the best available information on the enemy,
weather, and terrain can he confidently order "Launch helicopters!" and
"Land the landing force!"
Perhaps the greatest difference of opinion on modern amphibious tactics
and techniques arises from: first, the debate as to whether or not nuclear
munitions will be used; and second, the size and degree of unit
separation. No matter what size the separation unit is that lands by
helicopter in the amphibious assault, we can all agree that the highest
order of intelligence is required for this unit to "stay loose," hit hard,
then saddle up and move out rapidly--avoiding, all the while, the
unproductive moment of nuclear-weapon target-size concentration. How,
then, shall we succeed in unveiling the spook?
Within force troops, in both FMFLant and FMFPac, we have the key to unlock
a part of the Houdini apparatus--the force reconnaissance company. The
proper utilization of these highly skilled "eyeballs" and "eardrums" is
the skeleton key to success in modern amphibious warfare.
The general missions of these companies are to support
a landing force by: first, conducting a pre-assault and post-assault
amphibious and parachute reconnaissance; and second, conducting
pre-assault and post-assault parachute and other pathfinding missions.
A force reconnaissance company is a part of the task organization of the
landing force and is employed to extend the ground reconnaissance
capability of that force beyond the coverage afforded by the organic
reconnaissance battalion of Marine divisions. As noted in the mission,
this is accomplished by pre-assault terrestrial reconnaissance using
amphibious and parachute means. To conduct post-assault deep
reconnaissance, helicopter lift and parachuting are used. The company
employs helicopters to establish and displace deep observation posts for
battlefield surveillance. The reconnaissance-surveillance portion of the
force reconnaissance company's mission must be closely monitored by the
landing force G-2 to insure that all efforts are integrated into the
overall intelligence collection plan. Only by obtaining and using all
available information can the intelligence officer fit together the
assorted pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and present the commander with a
In addition, the force reconnaissance company is employed to provide
parachute pathfinder services in the approach and retirement lanes and
helicopter landing zones, in amphibious and subsequent land operations.
Pathfinder teams provide pre-assault navigational assistance to
helicopters in approach to and along approach-retirement lanes.
Pathfinder teams provide terminal guidance to the helicopter assault waves
in the landing zones, in either day or night operations. Final pre-H-hour
reports of enemy activity, obstacles, weather, and radiological
contamination in the landing zones and near vicinity are made by these
pathfinder teams. Pathfinders are capable of limited obstacle clearance,
should this work be necessary, and they provide emergency communication
support and assembly aid to the helicopter-landed troops.
The main tasks of a force reconnaissance company, then, are: First, to
perform pre-D-day reconnaissance as required by the overall intelligence
collection plan, using parachute and amphibious means; second, to provide
pathfinder services. In order to do these jobs, the company is
functionally organized to plan and execute--with the support of tactical
and transport fixed-winged aircraft, helicopters, and naval vessels--the
following tactical missions: perform pre-D-day amphibious reconnaissance
of any landing beaches required by the landing plan; establish
coastwatcher stations or inland observation posts after D-day, if
required; execute pre-D-day parachute reconnaissance of helicopter landing
zones--of the approach and retirement lanes thereto--and of other key inland
installations of interest to the Marine expeditionary force; conduct
post-D-day reconnaissance, by helicopter or parachute, of critical areas
beyond the range of division reconnaissance means; and finally, render
necessary parachute or pathfinder support to assault waves.
These varied tasks are accomplished by fourteen officers and 147 enlisted,
organized into a company headquarters of four officers and thirty-three
enlisted; a parachute reconnaissance platoon of three officers and
twenty-three enlisted; and an amphibious reconnaissance platoon of two
officers and twenty-three enlisted. A major (0302) is in command. Twelve
officers and ninety-seven enlisted Marines are on parachute jump status.
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The comments by MGYSGT Regalot related to Lt. Frank Reasoner's, ill fated patrol had no place in the book. IMHO it served no purpose other than to defame a hero. Inserted in the after action report and left at that would have accomplished the "Lessons Learned." criteria. This I say because of my personal feeling about how his son and widow would feel if they read the book. Semper Fidelis. John Sandoval Jr. Captain USMC Retired.