MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Throughout the history of armed conflict, warrior leaders have understood that change is one of the many constants of command. The Marines and Sailors of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command confronted this truth as they witnessed the reins of leadership being passed from then Maj. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik to Maj. Gen. Mastin M. Robeson during a change of command ceremony here, July 24. Hejlik was promoted to lieutenant general and took command of II Marine Expeditionary Force, July 25.
The chaplain led the prayer, the music was orchestrated and the unit Colors were passed in keeping with the tradition of Marine Corps change of commands. The warriors of MARSOC kept their military bearing while standing in formation. They could not respond to the warm words of gratitude that Hejlik spoke as he thanked them for all their hard work and sacrifice over the last two and a half years; however their faces could not help but reflect the admiration they felt for the “Father of MARSOC.”
“This great nation has asked an awful lot of General Dennis Hejlik and his wife Sandy over the last few years,” said Adm. Eric T. Olson, Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command. “When the decision was made by the Secretary of Defense to establish MARSOC, General Hejlik was identified clearly as the most qualified officer in the Marine Corps to command it.”
During his remarks, Olson elaborated on the challenges that Hejlik had to face in order to get the new unit up and running.
“This wasn’t easy. United States Special Operations Command had been established eighteen years earlier as a joint unified combatant command, but it was only three quarters joint,” said Olson. “We had no history of Marines under the operational control of Special Operations Command, and had no recent experience in creating a component command. General Hejlik had to do a lot of research. He had to work out a million details about manpower, facilities, equipment, training, procedures and more. But mostly, he had to follow his instincts based on a career of leadership in the Marine Corps and a few years in and around the special operations community.”
On Feb. 24, 2006, MARSOC stood up, dug in and prepared for the fight. Under the leadership of Hejlik, MARSOC’s warrior ethos and outstanding courage on the battlefield quickly earned the new unit the respect of their brothers in SOCOM.
“Since the first deployment in 2006, MARSOC personnel have been awarded a Bronze Star with Combat “V” for valor, 34 Purple Hearts with several more pending, three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals with “V” for valor, 137 Combat Action Ribbons as a direct result of combat operations facing the enemy at close range, along with 41 official combat action ribbons pending,” said Olson. “And it is said that MARSOC is not yet fully operations capable. Well, they sound quite operational to me.”
Hejlik, a former enlisted Marine who was discharged as a sergeant in 1972 and commissioned through the Platoon Leaders Class Program, spoke briefly on what he felt was the reason for MARSOC’s growing reputation as warriors.
“I had, hands down, the best bunch of colonels, sergeants major, master gunnery sergeants and first sergeants in the Marine Corps,” said Hejlik. “They have done this, I haven’t. I gave them a little bit of advice and they have run with it.”
Command of MARSOC is now in the hands of Maj. Gen. Mastin M. Robeson. Robeson, a graduate of Amphibious Warfare School and Command and Staff College, comes to MARSOC with extensive experience as a commander. His command assignments include: Rifle and Weapons Platoon Commander, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment; Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment afloat (USS John F. Kennedy); Rifle and Weapons Company Commander, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines; Commanding Officer, Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team Company; Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines (Battalion Landing Team with 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit); Commanding Officer, 8th Marine Regiment; Assistant Division Commander and Commanding General, 2nd Marine Division; Commanding General, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa; Commanding General, 3rd and 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigades; Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division; and Deputy Commanding General of III Marine Expeditionary Force.
“Mastin and I have known each other since 1976,” said Hejlik. “Since I’ve been an officer, I’ve known him longer than any other officer in the Corps. We were second lieutenants together. He was in Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, and I was in Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, and we’ve been great friends ever since. Sandy and I were talking about how I hate to give up command, but not this time. I am thrilled to give him this command. They’re going to do a great job.”
During the ceremony, Robeson was brief, but to the point when expressing the pride he felt at being the new commander of MARSOC.
“We are blessed to be here. There is not a job in the Marine Corps that I would rather have today than this right here. Nancy and I are privileged to follow in your footsteps,” Robeson said to Hejlik. “I’ve watched you with great admiration while you’ve done what you’ve done here for the last two and a half years. You have set that standard, and I look forward to the opportunity to be able to enjoy what you have set and accomplished.”
The Marines and Sailors of MARSOC stand at a significant crossroad in their history, as the officer who took a handful of Marines and turned them into a force of over 2,000 “Silent Warriors” moves onward and upward. The MARSOC commander has changed, but the mission has not. MARSOC’s personnel stand poised and ready as they now follow the leadership of Robeson and write the next chapter of the MARSOC story.