Historical Item

 MSG Detachment Baku
MSG warriors accept, excel at special duty challenges
Submitted by: 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Story Identification #: 200311694856
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Sean Wright

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Posts: Santiago, Chile / Lima Peru Author: Gunnery Sgt. Sean Wright
4th MEB
Source:  Marines Online

PhotoID: 20031161036
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 here.

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 Forces.

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 bearable.

"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 here."

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 Marines.

"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 appearance.

"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 training NCO.

"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 assignments.

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 (AT).

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 career planner.

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