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A Special Study Influences Special Operations

When Dr. Michelle Dolfini-Reed published a CNA analysis recommending that the Marine Corps create new occupational specialties for special operators, she had little hope of seeing an impact. The commandant in charge of the Marine Corps at the time was dead-set against new job categories for the Marine Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC.

But her analysis was toted from meeting to meeting by MARSOC’s commander for more than a year. Even the commander’s wife read the study after noticing that he took it everywhere and “’shoved it under people’s noses.’” And the study eventually helped sway Marine Corps leadership. Today, those new occupational specialties make up the majority of what are now called Marine Raiders.


The original resistance was rooted in the cultural belief that all Marines are special; designating a select group of them as special operators would be contrary to the spirit of the Corps. But the status quo was costly. MARSOC was first created in 2006, and when Dolfini-Reed and CNA’s Lewis Lee began the 2008 project, standard “infantry Marines” made up most of the command’s troops. This meant that after two years of specialized training, most would move out of special operations and on to other parts of the Corps. The CNA study quantified the costs of the loss of skills that repeatedly occurred after nearly $184,000 in special operations training for each enlisted Marine. Dolfini-Reed calculated that the return on investment could be at least doubled or tripled by creating new career paths that kept those skills in the special operations community.

The new occupational specialties created are Special Operations Officer — numerical designation 0370 — and, for enlisted Marines, Critical Skills Operator, or 0372. Dolfini-Reed proudly displays in her CNA office a recruiting card that encourages ambitious Marines to become Marine Raiders. In large type, it says, “We’ve got your number: 0372.” Indeed, the Raiders have Michelle Dolfini-Reed’s number.