The United States Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance unit – also called Force RECON – provides critical support to the operations of all branches of the United States Armed Forces. This elite, highly trained unit of men and women work behind enemy lines to scout enemy positions, locate captured friendly forces and provide strategic intelligence for land, sea and air assaults and covert operations. Only top performing Marines can serve in Force RECON. Before they can qualify for this exclusive unit, they must meet strict physical requirements and pass challenging physical fitness tests. Once accepted into the unit, Force RECON members have the honor of serving as the best of the best in the U.S. military.
What Is Marine Force Recon?
Force RECON falls under the command of the United States Marine Corps’ Marine Expeditionary Force Commander. The Corps deploys the unit to handle special operations, which can include raids to support Marine Expeditionary Force units, amphibious reconnaissance, surveillance or deep ground reconnaissance.
The Marine Corps played a major role in conquering enemy forces in the Pacific theater during World War II. The Corps established Force RECON in the 1950s. Since the early 2000s, Force RECON has grown to include more than 2,000 Marines.
Like the Navy SEALs, Force RECON is an elite military unit. However, while the SEALs’ missions involve killing enemy forces, Force RECON concentrates its efforts on gathering intelligence. The Force RECON unit is highly trained and typically deployed on missions behind enemy lines. Its preparation includes extensive intelligence coursework, as well as intense physical training, particularly in swimming and other water maneuvers.
Physical Requirements to Join the Marines
Most Force RECON members begin their careers as ordinary Marines and must meet entry physical requirements demanded by the Corps, including weight-to-height standards. For example, a man who stands 6 feet tall can weight no more than 202 pounds and no less than 140 pounds. A 5 foot, 6 inch woman Marine cannot weigh more than 161 pounds or less than 117 pounds.
Likewise, the Corps places strict limits on acceptable levels of body fat. For instance, a male Marine age 17 to 20 must not exceed 18 percent body fat, while females in the same age group must not exceed 26 percent body fat. Limits increase by age group. For example, a 45-year-old male Marine can have a body fat level of 20 percent.
Certain types of illnesses or medical conditions may temporarily or permanently disqualify a Marine Corps recruit. For example, the Corps will not accept a recruit who has an active stomach ulcer, a congenital abnormality of the digestive system or a condition such as ulcerative colitis.
Typically, recruits cannot qualify for the Marine Corps if they have a prosthesis, including some dental implants. Military medical personnel screen Marine Corps candidates for hearing problems, testing each recruit with an audiometer. Conditions such as diabetes, gout and certain types of anemia can disqualify a Marine Corps candidate.
The Marine Corps often rejects candidates who have problems that affect their mobility. During a physical exam, medical staff test the flexibility of each recruit’s elbows, hands, fingers, wrists, knees, hips and ankles. They also check for physical malformations, such as clubfoot, missing toes or fingers, ingrown toenails or loose or dislocated joints, which may result in disqualification.
A recruit with arthritis or chronic knee pain cannot qualify for the Marine Corps. Other disqualifying conditions can include orthopedic implants, such as rods, plates, pins or screws. Serious scarring that interferes with normal muscle movements can disqualify a Marine recruit.
The Marine Corps may temporarily disqualify candidates who have certain eye conditions, such as conjunctivitis or a scratched cornea. Likewise, lens implants, glaucoma or conditions that affect the optic nerve may be grounds for disqualification.
Candidates must have good or correctable vision to qualify for the Corps. For entrance into some Corps units, a recruit must have far vision correctable to 20/40 in one eye and 20/20 in the other eye. And a candidate must have near vision that corrects to at least 20/40 in the best eye.
Corps recruits who have suffered recent concussions may not qualify for immediate entry. Candidates with facial deformities that do not allow them to wear headgear or masks often do not qualify. Likewise, spinal problems and chronic muscle conditions of the neck often disqualify a recruit.
The Marine Corps does not admit people who have heart conditions such as arrhythmia, blood vessel abnormalities or a history of congestive heart failure. Lung infections typically disqualify a candidate, at least until cured. Recruits who suffer from asthma or chronic bronchitis typically cannot quality for service.
Marine Corps recruits with certain active infectious diseases, including meningitis and syphilis, cannot qualify. Narcolepsy or chronic weakness or paralysis typically disqualify a candidate. Recruits with recurring or recent mental disorders such as neurosis or anxiety may not qualify for the Corps.
Before admitting recruits into the Marine Corps, medical personnel take extensive medical histories and examine them from head to toe. The medical conditions listed represent a fraction of the physical problems that can disqualify a Corps candidate.
Marine Corps Physical Fitness and Combat Fitness Tests
The medical exam is the first hurdle Marine Corps recruits must successfully clear. Next, they face even greater challenges, physical fitness tests (PFTs) and combat fitness tests (CFTs). PFTs help Marine Corps officers gauge recruits’ endurance and strength, along with the stamina of their respiratory and cardiovascular systems. The series of tests concentrates on the lower, upper and middle sections of the body and includes a timed 3-mile run, timed crunches and pull-ups.
Recruits must pass the PFTs for entry into the Corps. Active duty Marines also must pass annual PFTs to determine their ability to remain in the Corps. Female active duty Marines who are pregnant or postpartum during the testing period can postpone their PFTs until several months after they return to full duty.
The PFTs follow a rating system that applies to each set of exercises. Top-level participants are those who earn classification scores of 235 to 300. Second-level participants score 200 to 234 points; third level recruits or Marines score 120 to 199 points. Participants who fail to earn a minimum score in a particular exercise can retake it to improve their marks. However, failed tests remain on the participant’s PFT report, with adverse proficiency implications.
The PFT scoring system sets limits according to gender and age. For instance, men age 17 to 20 must perform four to 20 pull-ups. Women age 17 to 20 must finish the 3-mile run in 21:00 to 30:50 minutes, while men of the same age must complete the exercise in 18:00 to 27:40 minutes. The Corps allows PFT facilitators to conduct the run indoors or outdoors, and allows for adjusted times for Marines and recruits performing the exercise at altitude. Active duty Marines who are at least 46 years of age can substitute a 5-kilometer rowing exercise for the 3-mile run.
CFTs require more strenuous abilities than PFTs do, to ensure that each recruit or active duty Marine can perform in combat situations. Each exercise mimics the type of physical activity a Marine might face on the battlefield.
The movement-to-contact exercise requires participants to run an 880-yard sprint. The facilitator can conduct the exercise on a track or other level surface. The course must include sharp turns that require the participants to reduce their speed without veering off course.
Next, participants must complete the ammunition lift exercise, designed to test their strength and stamina. The timed exercise requires them to repeatedly lift a 30-pound ammunition box from shoulder height to over their heads, for two minutes.
The maneuver under fire exercise consists of an obstacle course that simulates multiple movements common on the battlefield. Along a 300-yard course, participants must carry out ammunition resupply exercises, run, crawl under obstacles, throw grenades and drag or carry dummies or other participants.
Marine Corps’ Basic Reconnaissance Course
To qualify for Force RECON training, a Marine must score at least 250 on his or her PFT. The School of Infantry West RECON Training Company administers Force RECON training at Fort Pendleton, California.
Basic Force RECON training follows three phases, which take a total of nine weeks to complete. Phase one takes four weeks to complete and focuses on physical fitness skills. During the course, Marines perform exercises such as helicopter rope suspension, ocean swimming, running, land navigation, obstacle navigation and high-repetition physical training.
The three-week-long second phase of Force RECON basic training focuses on mission planning and implementation. Participants learn small unit tactics and carry out nine days of mission simulations.
Phase three takes place in Coronado, California, and focuses on conducting water missions. During the two-week course, Marines learn nautical navigation and how to operate a boat, and practice amphibious reconnaissance missions.
Fort Pendleton also administers the Force RECON team leader training course, which takes 48 days to complete.
Military studies suggest that a Marine’s physical training is the best predictor of selection to and success in Force RECON. Throughout their careers, Force RECON members continue advanced training to improve their skills. Advanced courses focus on areas such as escape training, combat diving, evasion, special warfare, sniper training and survival.
Preparing for Marine Corps PFTs and CFTs
If you plan to enlist in the Marines, the Corps recommends that you start training at least six to eight weeks before your PFTs. Train with a workout partner, and keep a journal of your progress. Practice completing each PFT exercise at least one time per week. During your training, refrain from using alcohol or eating junk food. Eat healthy foods such as fresh vegetables, fruits and lean meats, and drink lots of water. If you smoke, quit before you begin training.
Suspend your training a couple of days before your PFTs to allow your body to recover and relax. Eat a small meal the morning of your PFTs, and enjoy a few pieces of fruit as the day goes on. A few hours before the PFT, hydrate your body by drinking a few cups of water. Before the PFT begins, do some warm-up exercises such as jogging.
The U.S. military bases salaries on your time served and rank. Some service members receive additional pay for working overseas, on submarine missions or in hazardous locations such as facilities prone to terrorist attacks. Typically, service members can retire with pay after serving for 20 years.
Military pay schedules specify income levels for enlisted soldiers, warrant officers and officers. As of 2018, enlisted service members earn an income of around $1,600 per month for the first two years. High-ranking officers who have served for more than 20 years can earn nearly $16,000 per month. In some cases, dental and medical officers earn more money than their nonmedical colleagues do.