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U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael K. Nagata speaks to Marine Raiders with Marine Forces Special Operations Command at Cognitive Raider Symposium 2023 on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, June 22, 2023. CRS is an annual event designed to spur the creative and intellectual thought of members of the command when tackling difficult and advanced problem sets. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Henry Rodriguez)

Photo by Cpl. Henry Rodriguez

What winning looks like: the Cognitive Raider

2 Aug 2023 | Cpl. Henry Rodriguez II Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – Special operations forces from across the joint force have developed a reputation for efficiency, lethality, and versatility over the course of their history. In recent years, units like Marine Forces Special Operations Command have sought to further develop another aspect of their SOF capabilities: intellectual creativity.

Beginning with the development and publication of Marine Special Operations Forces 2030, MARSOC has outlined the concept of the Cognitive Raider – a term that blends the requirements of the future Marine Raider to pose a high caliber of intellect, judgement, creativity, and teamwork with the grit, determination, and endurance that have generated so much success to this point.

Within the mold of advancing the ideals of a continuously thinking and learning command, MARSOC created an annual event designed to educate personnel, challenge thoughts, and inspire new ideas. This event, known as the Cognitive Raider Symposium, began in 2019 and has featured topics such as irregular warfare, great power competition, and enterprise-level agility. The topics are chosen yearly with the goal to align with MARSOC, U.S. Special Operations Command, Marine Corps, and DoD initiatives.

“We use the Cognitive Raider Symposium to expand the aperture of our personnel in understanding the changing landscape of the global environment, globally integrated operations, multi-domain concepts, and cross-functional capabilities,” said a combat development and integration plans officer with MARSOC.

Throughout the year, leading up to the full event, MARSOC operates a series of educational seminars that highlight different aspects of the yearly topic. Through these seminars, the command can help facilitate an overall culture of learning and critical thinking. Through various organizations and guest speakers, MARSOC personnel are exposed to a variety of ideas and concepts that can directly build on the overarching theme of the year.

This year, MARSOC has chosen to focus on what winning looks like in integrated deterrence. As a concept, this takes a deep look at how MARSOC is currently positioned in the global security environment and how it can further adapt to how rapidly that environment is changing.

For MARSOC, this includes continuing to implement strategic shaping and reconnaissance as a force, as well as further development of littoral irregular warfare and littoral special reconnaissance to ensure MARSOC remains not only relevant in littoral special operations but a true pioneer in that space.

“The next generation raider force modernization, combined with SSR execution, demands an understanding of complex human terrain, relationships, and influences.  These factors have highlighted a need to explore and understand how MARSOC manages talent, creates trust, and prioritizes and understands relationships and networking building for what winning looks like,” added the combat development and integration plans officer.

Guest speakers at CRS ’23 included U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Antonio M. Fletcher, commander of NATO Special Operations Headquarters, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, and Dr. Carter Malkasian, Defense Analysis department chair with The Naval Postgraduate School. The guests led conversations on topics like the future of the battlespace, working with allies and partners, and leveraging external networks and technologies. All MARSOC personnel were invited to attend and contribute to furthering the intellectual capability across all echelons of command and contribute to the first SOF truth – humans are more important than hardware.

As the global security environment continues to rapidly change, and the urgency to modernize continues to grow, CRS ’23 not only holds implications for the long-term mission, but also gives actionable thought to the immediate future of MARSOC; the capabilities, missions, organization, and partnerships of Marine Raiders today and tomorrow will continue to require creative and insightful Cognitive Raiders.

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