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Many of Marine Corps' best and brightest
stand guard at embassies, consulates

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Posts: MSG Bn  Author: David Josar, Stars & Stripes - Stuttgart bureau
Source:  Stars & Stripes

Sunday, April 15, 2001

Many of Marine Corps' best and brightest
stand guard at embassies, consulates

By David Josar, Stuttgart bureau

mar415.jpg (12969 bytes)
David Josar / Stars and Stripes
Marine Sgt. Edward Thorne of the Marine Security Guard stands watch at the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany.

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.

"We’re really 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 Bratislava.

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 dignitaries.

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, Ray said.

"They become a focal point for the community," he said. "The Marine House becomes a meeting point."

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 service

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.

Senior noncommissioned 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 support families.

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 the attack.

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 tourist area.

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 guards.

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.


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