|Posts: Santiago, Chile / Lima Peru
Sgt. Sean Wright
|Source: Marines Online
Submitted by: 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade
MSG Det Baku
BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Marine
Security Guard Cpl. Phillip H. Bauer, MSG Det Baku, MSG Bn., 4th Marine
Expeditionary Brigade (Anti-Terrorism) discusses carpet purchase
options with his fellow watch standers. Travel to exotic lands with
rare purchase opportunities is one of the benefits of serving on this
demanding special duty.
Photo by: Gunnery
Sgt. Sean Wright
|BAKU, Azerbaijan. (Nov 6, 2003)
-- Extremely thick, bulletproof glass stands between the entrance
and the Marine Security Guard standing at Post 1 in the U.S. Embassy
Deadly civil unrest erupted over recent presidential elections here and
the glass serves as a constant reminder of dangers associated with any
service abroad, especially as a uniformed member of the U.S. Armed
Apparently undaunted by any potential danger, Cpl. Andres Pimentel, a
MSG from New York, N.Y., keeps his head swiveling between multiple
security monitors and the front door of the embassy. Somewhat of a
concert in motion occurs as he seamlessly "buzzes" access-badge-holding
personnel in and issues temporary passes to other embassy visitors. An
extremely calm presence that many may consider impressive, conveys the
young Marine's confidence as he serves in this capital city, on the
banks of the Caspian Sea, once encompassed by the former Soviet Union.
Adding to the significance of the 22-year-old's responsibilities is
that most region map views include the relatively close city, Tehran,
Iran, where the U.S. Embassy was overrun in 1979, beginning a 444-day
hostage siege. Although too young to recall this situation, Pimentel
says this tremendous responsibility and meeting various heads of state
make enduring the long-hours and strenuous training requirements
"I wanted to serve abroad as a Marine," Pimentel, an administrative
clerk prior to becoming an MSG, said. "I've gotten to meet the
President of the United States, The Honorable George W. Bush and
Secretary of State Colin Powell," an impressive list as he's on his
first post and has been here only 14 months.
MSGs, following completion of school at Quantico, Va., normally serve
two tours during their 30-month assignment. One assignment is usually
to a "hardship" post such as here.
"It is slightly more difficult (serving at a hardship post), on your
quality of life," Pimentel, who also serves as the Mess NCO for the
detachment, said. "Aside from serving as watch standers, each MSG is
assigned a collateral responsibility to support the operational needs
of the detachment. "It gets demanding because you normally take care of
your collateral responsibilities on one of your 'days off,' but I look
at it as enhancing my marketability for civilian opportunities once I
leave the Corps. Many employers look for potential personnel with
specialized skills in areas like those assigned as collateral duties
More bulletproof glass in a light armored vehicle, while on MSG duty
refers to a full-sized U.S. manufactured sport utility vehicle,
modified with the special glass and armor plating in doors and other
key locations, separates Gunnery Sgt. Jesse Mafnas, Detachment
Commander, MSG Detachment Baku, Co. A., Marine Security Guard Bn., 4th
Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Anti-Terrorism), and his Marines from
potential threats during necessary official travel. In addition to the
enormous administrative, operational and training responsibilities
involved in leading an isolated detachment, Detachment Commanders also
work closely with embassies' Regional Security personnel to ensure
constant accountability of all classified material and safeguard
American lives and property if threatened.
Mafnas, a Barrigada, Guam native, served previously as a watch stander
at U.S Embassies in Moscow, Seoul, and Calcutta, India, stated the near
constant operational tempo is challenging but a small price to pay to
enjoy the billet of commander, a position rarely bestowed upon enlisted
"You get used to the tremendous pace after a while," Mafnas said.
"Practically all flights leave and depart here very early and there's
plenty of challenges both administratively and operationally. Because
this is an independent duty, Marines are expected to perform at certain
levels of standards that do not require constant supervision. I conduct
spot checks to ensure Marines are maintaining and performing to the
level of proficiency both on duty and their assigned collateral
duties," he said as the protected vehicle slows to enter a heavy, steel
gate that provides "stand off" protection for the recently acquired
Marine House inside.
Serving in foreign locations away from traditional bases and
maintaining the necessary close ties with State Department personnel
warrant that MSG-duty Marines reside in civilian homes vice barracks.
Detachment Commanders are provided a separate residence, and are the
only personnel who can be assigned to the duty if married.
Inside the gate, standing outside the spacious, four-story with
additional basement home, stands Sgt. Corey P. Santasky, the Assistant
Detachment Commander or "A-slash" in MSG lingo. Santasky serves as a
conduit on all detachment commander responsibilities and serves as the
Bachelor's Enlisted Quarters manager as a collateral assignment. The
BEQ, in this case, is full of challenges completing and maintaining the
detachments dwelling that includes: numerous bedrooms; a
nearly-completed bar facility; an indoor swimming pool and a
fully-equipped workout facility in the basement that would be the envy
of many small fitness centers. The property also includes an outdoor
grill and bar area and has a rather scenic landscaped courtyard
"There are too many moving parts for anyone alone to stay abreast of on
this duty," Santasky, a Middletown, Conn., native, said. "I reside with
the detachment in the house and there's naturally some inherent
leadership responsibilities required with that, but I mostly reinforce
and support the detachment commanders directions.
Perhaps a slightly more-than-normally strained "A-Slash" with the
recent move from an aging Marine House that had began to have
structural problems, the machine-gunner serving on his second post
keeps it all in perspective.
"It's completely different scheduling necessary maintenance and getting
what-would-be routine construction issues in the states completed,"
Santasky, currently serving on his second post, explained. "Available
material and the available workforce from region to region. It can be
extremely difficult to accomplish something that would hardly require a
telephone call back in the fleet."
One area in the quarters fully functional is the lounge and television
viewing area. Cpl. Philip H. Bauer serves as the Navy Motion Picture
Service NCO and facilitates an impressive schedule of recently releases
movies to keep the Marines in touch with current releases in the
states. Bauer, from Ellsworth, Wis., also serves as the Supply and
Reaction NCO. This requires a substantial amount of time maintaining
routine garrison supplies and additional military equipment used should
current threat levels elevate.
"I just have to learn, not make the same error twice and be as thorough
as possible," said the administrative clerk who maintains everything
from certain medical supplies to armored vests. "It seems overwhelming
initially, but challenges are why we come on this duty."
Just down the hall from the television lounge is a room filled with
computer equipment and reading materials. From here, Cpl. Christopher
Matthews from Lake Jackson, Texas, maintains an impressive professional
military and distance education learning center as the detachment's
"The command really presses distance learning and Marines can complete
a lot of courses if they're interested while on this duty," the
tow-gunner added. "One of the biggest challenges is the connection
speed because we have to use 'dial-up' access on fairly antiquated
lines. We're working to get a direct line from the embassy."
Morale, welfare and recreation are key elements in keeping the watch
standers relaxed and focused on their duties. Cpl. Steven K. Alton
serves as the MWR NCO. When not on watch, the KC-130 mechanic maintains
a program ranging from sporting equipment issue to official trips and
outings detachments are authorized to wind down on these rigorous
Alton, from Eureka, Calif., also provides a good portion of the
detachment's comedic relief when necessary, he explains.
"Sometimes you just have to keep your sense of humor and focus on
what's really important," he said. "I'll be departing this detachment
soon and although a hardship post offers some challenges, you seem to
become closer to the Marines because there's not as many opportunities
to be isolated on liberty and stuff."
Despite the unique opportunities available for Marines willing to take
on the challenges of serving on MSG duty, the program continues to
struggle to meet its personnel requirements and is currently more than
120 watch standers short. This creates morale problems and increases
demands on existing personnel already stretched fairly thin, according
to LtCol. David Wogaman, commanding officer, Co. A., MSG Bn., 4th MEB
A Washington, DC native, Wogaman explains Marines have unique
opportunities to excel as a MSG.
"When you weigh the potential benefits of unique foreign assignments,
increased SDA pay, and an opportunity to continue the more than 100
years of Marine Service with the Department of State, I find it
difficult to reason why we're not filling all our billets and turning
qualified Marines away," Wogaman said. "This is demanding duty and the
school will require long, demanding hours from both watch standers and
detachment commanders. We have fine Marines that do great things on a
daily basis. Many days are challenging, but this only makes the rewards
much greater. I'm sure there are many qualified Marines capable of
performing admirably on MSG duty. Unlike recruiting and drill
instructor duty, we're an all-volunteer force and I challenge qualified
Marines to join us."
Marines interested or who would like more information on how to serve
keeping Americans and America's secrets free with Marines in Baku or
more than 132 other locations across the globe, contact your unit's