|Many of Marine
Corps' best and brightest
stand guard at embassies, consulates
By David Josar, Stuttgart
David Josar / Stars
Marine Sgt. Edward Thorne of the Marine Security Guard stands watch at
the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany.
— Protecting American embassies and consulates across the globe,
members of the Marine Security Guard are ambassadors in blue who are
considered some of the brightest and best the Corps has to offer.
"Essentially, we are the
cream of the crop," said Marine Sgt. Justin Stokes, 25, assigned to
Company H in Frankfurt, where he helps protect the consulate. "You
represent your country, your military and are the first impression many
people get of young Americans."
About 1,200 men and
women are assigned across the world to the Marine Security Guard. Those
numbers will grow in the next few years as the United States opens more
embassies and consulates.
Company H Commander Lt.
Col. Jack E. Ray said there are currently 126 guard detachments. By
June, there will be 132. By 2005, 159 detachments are expected. Some of
that expansion is because the United States is opening embassies in
countries that once were part of the Soviet Union.
growing," said Ray, whose Company H covers most of central Europe. He
has 14 detachments under his command and expects to soon get a 15th in
A Marine Security Guard
unit ranges from as few as six members to more than 30 members at a
large post like the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt.
Guards —most of
whom are noncommissioned officers — provide security for the
diplomatic posts and assist the protection force for visiting
Another not so expected
role is to provide a social outlet for Americans stationed in the
communities served by the guards.
In Frankfurt, the
finishing touches are being put on the Marine House, a spacious
quarters where the 11 Marines stationed there live.
There is a large weight
room in the basement and a pool table adjacent the ballroom. A bar is
to be installed soon.
Marines share large two-
and three-bedroom apartments where each person has their own bathroom.
They regularly host
community parties and use the proceeds to fund the annual Marine Ball,
"They become a focal
point for the community," he said. "The Marine House becomes a meeting
In more isolated
postings, Stokes and Ray said, the city surrounding a posting may
simply be too dangerous for socializing, and the Marine House provides
the only outlet for relaxation.
52 years of
The first class of 83
Marine Security Guards graduated in January 1949, after the State
Department requested a reliable, well-trained force to protect its
diplomatic posts. Those Marines were sent to Bangkok, Thailand;
Tangier, Morocco; Cairo, Egypt; and Seoul, South Korea.
The program has remained
competitive, and those who join get extra points toward their next
promotion. Marines with a rank of sergeant or below go through a
six-week course of instruction where they are taught security measures
like how to spot possible threats and how to use their police batons.
officers go through a more intensive eight-week course. Both classes
are held at the Marine Security Guard School at Quantico, Va.
Ray said roughly 30
percent of the candidates drop out of the training.
"You want Marines who
are very mature, can work on their own," Ray said. "They have to be
responsible. They have to able to handle almost any situation that can
come their way."
Marines with a rank of
sergeant and below serve a tour of duty of 30 months with two 15-month
postings; NCOs serve two 18-month tours. Lower-ranking personnel who
are married are not eligible to serve as guards. The reason, Ray said,
is that in many of the postings there are not enough facilities to
The Marine Security
Guard’s primary responsibility is providing protection to the
embassies and consulates.
In Frankfurt, for
example, they stand watch behind bullet-proof glass in the front lobby.
They watch video monitors and are responsible for pushing the final
buzzer that unlocks the inside door to the embassy.
Outside, a German police
vehicle stands watch and inside the front doors, contracted security
guards search bags, check identification badges and pass visitors
through metal detectors.
"We’re the last
line," said Marine Sgt. Edward Thorne, who was at post inside the
consulate during a shift last week.
Stokes said the
Frankfurt posting is comfy compared to others.
Before being assigned to
Germany, he was at an embassy in West Africa. Around Christmas, a
building that housed Americans was hit by gunfire during an uprising.
Stokes and other Marine
guards put on battle dress uniforms and were ready to protect the
building against attack. However, nothing happened.
Marine Guards protect
their post 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
They regularly practice
"reaction drills" in case of fire, intruders or angry mobs. However,
they are not intended to be a fighting force capable of holding out
against a hostile population or army. They are generally only supplied
with light weapons: shotguns, 9 mm pistols, revolvers, tear gas
canisters and smoke grenades.
Hazards are part of the
job, especially in more remote, undeveloped parts of the world.
In December, a Marine
assigned to protect the American embassy in Niger was shot in the arm
during a robbery in the community. A civilian employee was killed in
In June 1985, leftist
guerrillas in San Salvador, El Salvador, killed four Marines with
automatic weapons fire as they sat outside a café in a popular
Marines have also fallen
under attack in Liberia, Somalia, Rwanda and the Congo.
"There is an element of
danger to the job," Stokes said. "But that often has more to do with
the community than the job."
For most of the Marine
guards, the less media attention they get, the better. Because getting
noticed usually means that something bad has happened.
In August 1998, the
spotlight turned to two U.S. embassies in Africa and their Marine
Sgt. Jesse Aliganga was
killed in Nairobi, Kenya, when terrorists blew up the U.S. embassy
there. Another attack happened in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Eleven
Americans died in the attacks.