Oorah: Celebrating 242 years of the Marine Corps

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A Marine Security Guard mans his station at the U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi (U.S. Department of State photo)
A Marine Security Guard mans his station at the U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi (U.S. Department of State photo)

Oorah: Celebrating 242 years of the Marine Corps

The U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) today honors the U.S. Marine Corps’ 242nd birthday. Throughout their history, U.S. Marines have safeguarded U.S. diplomacy, notably during the Mexican-American War and China’s Boxer Rebellion as special couriers and guards. Today, Marine Security Guards (MSGs) serve as the first line of defense for U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide.

“In Every Clime and Place,” states the Marines’ Hymn.  For the nearly 2,000-strong MSGs, standing watch at 177 embassies, consulates, and missions worldwide, the lyric is a statement of fact.

A Marine Security Guard (MSG) watchstander provides security while standing post on the roof of the U.S. Embassy, Bamako, Mali, Aug. 29, 2016. The MSG program, run by the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, has 175 Marine Corps Detachments throughout the world, providing protection to mission personnel and to prevent the compromise of national security information and equipment at designated diplomatic and consular facilities. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Sarah R. Hickory)

Often stationed at “Post One,” just inside the entrance of a U.S. embassy, the men and women of the Marine Security Guard Embassy Security Group are literally the face of America, standing as symbols of our nation’s values of integrity, courage, loyalty, and commitment. From Brasilia to Ottawa to Ulaanbaatar, MSGs protect embassy personnel, property, and information in a variety of settings, including in countries with weak central governments or those facing armed conflict. They respond to crises large and small, such as hostile assaults, demonstrations, bomb threats, fires, weapons of mass destruction, and facility intrusion attempts.

In the past year, MSGs have served at U.S. facilities under threat in countries such as conflict-stricken South Sudan. As Hurricane Irma roared through the Caribbean, Marine Security Guard Security Augmentation Units (MSAUs) deployed to Haiti and the Dominican Republic to bolster the existing MSG detachments.

Marines have stood side by side with the State Department through crises, such as the 1968 “Tet Offensive,” when Marines successfully repelled attempts by communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces to breach the locked chancery building of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Similarly, in 2004, MSGs defended the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, against a sustained terrorist attack, preventing the assailants from entering the consulate building.

Special Agent Leo Crampsey, Regional Security Officer for the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam, meets with U.S. Marines shortly after repelling an enemy surprise attack during the Tet Offensive of 1968 (U.S. Department of State photo)

And they often make the ultimate sacrifice. In April 1983, Cpl. Robert McMaugh was on duty at Post One in Beirut, Lebanon when a terrorist truck bomb destroyed the U.S. Embassy. In a massive attack six months later, an additional 241 Marines were killed by another terrorist truck bombing at the U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut. In 1998, Sgt. Jesse Nathanael Aliganga lost his life when terrorists detonated a car bomb at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.  

The MSG program is the result of an almost seven-decades-long partnership between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Department of State – two organizations with distinct cultures and missions. Jointly funded by the State Department and Defense Department, MSGs have dual chains of command, reporting to a Marine commander in addition to the embassy’s head of security, known as the Regional Security Officer. Since the program’s establishment in 1948, the MSGs have emerged as one of the strongest examples of civilian-military relations in American history.

Marines have served U.S. diplomacy since the founding of the nation, with Marine detachments often deployed to protect U.S. embassies when crisis strikes. The first cadre of MSGs officially formed after war-weary leaders in Washington, D.C. decided they needed an alert, disciplined force to protect U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. Congress enacted the Foreign Service Act of 1946, which authorized the Secretary of Navy, at the request of the Secretary of State, to send enlisted Marines as “custodians” of an “embassy, legation, or consulate.” The first class of MSGs – 83 volunteers from the Marine Corps – underwent rigorous training and departed for Tangier, Morocco, and Bangkok, Thailand, in January of 1949. The program eventually grew to include thousands more recruits as MSG postings became increasingly prestigious.

A Marine Security Guard provides the embassy regional security officer updates in the immediate aftermath of a staged attack on a mock embassy in Virginia on Aug. 3, 2017. The action was part of an ATLaS capstone exercise, which is the culmination of 11 weeks plus 2 days of training for DSS special agents and MSGs to prepare them for various challenges and threats they may face while protecting embassies overseas. (U.S. Department of State photo)

The roots of the Department of State’s relationship with the Corps, however, run far deeper. In 1799, Marines protected American Consul General Edward Stevens on his mission to establish diplomatic relations with Haiti’s revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture. Throughout Stevens’ historic bid to “win the good opinion of [Toussaint’s] people,” the Marines provided the security the diplomat needed to sow the seeds of today’s strong U.S.-Haiti relationship.

Ever since, U.S. Marines have escorted diplomatic personnel in high-risk areas, and defended, as well as rescued, U.S. embassies in times of armed conflict or civil strife. During World War I, Marine noncommissioned officers served as the department’s diplomatic couriers to safeguard the delivery of diplomatic and confidential mail. They did the same in revolution-torn Russia with little more than a sidearm to protect themselves. Years later, in World War II, a 60-man Marine detachment was dispatched to guard the U.S. Embassy in London as the British capital faced bombardment and the threat of foreign invasion.

MSGs today serve at U.S. embassies and consulates round the globe, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year, working tirelessly with DSS to protect and safeguard American diplomacy.

About the Author: Scott Vincent Andrews serves in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.