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Marine Corps continues building Special Operations Command force

Commander says he has roughly 65 percent of his force in place, with plans to fill all 2,600 positions by next year.

The commander of the Marine Corps' nascent Special Operations Command Thursday said he has roughly 65 percent of his force in place, with plans to fill all 2,600 positions by next year. Maj. Gen. Dennis Hejik said growing the new command, which was created in February 2006, initially proved challenging because he had to recruit from within the Marine Corps' ranks.

"That in itself was a little bit difficult to start with," Hejik said. But over the last 20 months, he has attracted hundreds of special operators, all of whom have combat experience. The command, Hejik added, is "a very top-heavy organization" by Marine Corps standards, with most personnel having eight to 10 years of experience. Of the 1,700 personnel under his command, Hejik said 70 are majors -- an unusually high number of mid-grade officers for the Corps.

Hejik said some lingering skepticism about the command exists within the Marine Corps, which 20 years ago refused to establish a special-operations command and contribute forces to the joint-service U.S. Special Operations Command. The Marine Corps had long been concerned about losing their operational flexibility and possibly losing personnel and resources to the joint command.

"It'll take a generation and it's not embraced entirely, frankly," Hejik said. But he stressed that the command has received the personnel, equipment and other resources it has needed. Indeed, equipment tagged for his units receive the same priority as gear for units deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Although culturally that's a big shift . . . everybody got on board support-wise," Hejik said. "I have got the best people."

However, Hejik said that there is a need throughout the force for better persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. He listed the long-endurance ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle, built by Boeing Co. and Insitu Inc. of Bingen, Wash., as one technology that has attracted his attention.

The 40-pound drone, a low-cost propeller-driven aircraft that Marines have used in Iraq, is a "great little system," he said. Hejik would like to improve the command's communications systems to more quickly disseminate information around the battlefield. "More, quicker, faster," he said.

Meanwhile, Hejik said he expects to receive 31 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles now being fielded in large numbers to units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.