The Marine Corps Embassy Security Group turned out its largest crop of Marine Security Guards in recent history, including those who will soon stand up new security detachments at three diplomatic posts in Africa, currently devoid of any Marine presence.
About 150 new Marine Security Guards graduated from the group’s schoolhouse here Friday, the largest class in at least four years. Included were those who have been assigned to three new posts where the State Department has called for a Marine presence: Juba, South Sudan; Casablanca, Morocco; and Freetown, Sierra Leone.
The new detachments follow a congressional mandate to boost the number of MSGs by 1,000, nearly doubling the group’s current size. The new detachments will be the first of 50 such units going to diplomatic posts identified by State Department officials as places where they would like to add Marines. The push to identify gaps in diplomatic security occurred after September’s deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Also included in the program’s expansion is a new unit that will dispatch squad-size teams from its headquarters here at Quantico to diplomatic facilities wherever and whenever a need for reinforcement arises. It’s called the Marine Security Augmentation Unit, and the teams can be summoned directly by an ambassador if intelligence indicates the threat of an attack.
Col. Michael Robinson, commanding officer of the Embassy Security Group, told the graduates that their class is the first to signify the program’s expansion.
“The graduates that you see before you today play a new part in the history of this program,” Robinson said. “This is the most dynamic time in the history of this program.”
Robinson said the robust size of Friday’s graduating class means they can stand up the Security Augmentation Unit’s first three squads. Those Marines — already trained as MSGs — will complete an additional three-week training course this summer specializing in crisis response.
Robert Hartung, acting assistant director for international programs directorate with the State Department, told Marine Corps Times that diplomats face increased security challenges as the world becomes a more dangerous place.
“With the importance of diplomacy and the challenges the U.S. government is facing around the world, it’s important to have diplomats operating in safe and secure environments,” he said. “And the Marine Security Guards are one aspect U.S. diplomats rely on in order to do their job successfully overseas.”
Creating a close tie between ambassadors and the Security Augmentation Unit, as well as adding guards to new posts around the world, only strengthens the already robust relationship between the State Department and Marine Corps, Hartung added.
Cpl. Christopher Dunn and Lance Cpl. Larry Gage have both been assigned to the new detachment in Juba, South Sudan. Gage said it was an honor to be selected by his instructors to help stand up a new detachment, especially as one of the most junior Marines in the class.
Knowing that he will be directly involved in the push to get more Marine Security Guards on the ground in new parts of the world makes the special duty assignment as Marine Security Guard feel even more important, Dunn said.
Also graduating were 15 new detachment commanders, the staff noncommissioned officers who will manage and mentor the MSGs deployed around the world. Gunnery Sgt. Mike Judge said that even though his new assignment is in Mexico City, which doesn’t pose as high a threat as some other posts, it makes him feel more confident as a leader of small unit to know that the Corps is prepared to deploy Marines with the new Security Augmentation Unit in the event of an emergency.
“Marine Security Guard detachments are very small — it is worrisome in a small unit,” he said. “You do think ‘Who is your closest backup?’ ... It’s very, very comforting to know that there is somebody who will be able to have my back as soon as feasibly possible.”