Saturday, July 11, 2009

"The Dublin" - Embassy Marines in Ireland
This story was published in the Marine Leatherneck Magazine in July 2009 - written by P.T. Brent

The Marine Security Guard Detachment commander, SSgt Christopher Piazza, routinely coordinates with all the staff at the American Embassy in Dublin, including the ambassador. Ambassador Thomas Foley (seated) completed his service as United States Ambassador to Ireland on Jan. 22 of this year.

The French call it je ne sais quoi: an alluring and mysterious quality, one which lacks clear definition. Our Marines in Ireland understand it because they possess it. The Irish, of course, also have it; and, if you don't feel or "get it," you may never.

Think about it. Ireland's No. 1 export has been its gifted people. Throughout the world each and every year on March 17 everyone wishes he were Irish. A case in point: 21 U.S. Presidents claim Irish heritage. Among those, Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt claimed County Donegal, and Ronald Reagan claimed County Tipperary.

If this past November's 233rd Birthday Ball was any indicator, Marine security guard detachments are welcomed warmly in the magical land of leprechauns, shamrocks and Guinness. In a special moment that enhanced a memorable evening, Sergeant Cameron Baxter read the celebrated Birthday message by the 13th Commandant, General John Archer Lejeune (Luh-Jern), whose mother claimed Irish ancestry.

One reason this Ball was so flawless was the many hours of rehearsal on a cold and rainy tennis court, resulting in a perfect color guard the night of the Ball. Asked how long the color guard would be drilling in preparation, the detachment commander issued a typical Marine response: "Until they get it perfect."

American embassies and consulates world­wide proudly make Nov. 10th a time to share the tradition of the U.S. Marine Birthday. The guest of honor at the Dub­lin Ball was Ambassador Thomas Foley. Other foreign embassies were in attendance, as well as an ebullient "expat" Ma­rine contingent, including Father James Crofton, a graduate of Marine Corps Recruit De­pot Parris Island, S.C., and now a parish priest in Dublin. Everyone came to honor America and the leatherneck tradition. Ambassador Foley said, "It is unbelievable. The long hours, the dedication and the good spirit we enjoy from our Ma­rines here in Ireland."

Why is it such a distinctive event? One reason: It is Ireland, and, like all Marines, these embassy Marines make the Corps' Birthday a distinguished event. The Ma­rines, with no financial support, commit their time to host one of the most tasteful Balls ever attended.

"The Dublin" aka "The Dub"
Embassy Marines in Ireland were awarded the title "The Dublin" in a spirit filled with good humor. They recently bested "The Hague," embassy Marines based in the Netherlands. "The Dublin: Ma­rines publicly petitioned their command­ing officer for the honor during a formal military dinner, held in Limerick, with the late Colonel John Ripley in attendance.

Hailing from Missouri City, Texas, Sgt Joel Powell, an aviation ordnance technician with the military occupational special­ty (MOS) 6531, is a watchstander in Ireland. He joined the Corps in Houston after Sept. 11, 2001, because he ?wanted to be with the best of the best. In two and one-half years I have been to 24 countries, and I get to live in a beautiful old mansion in Ireland.?

At embassies around the world, the quarters that house detachment Marines are referred to as "Marine House" and are usually superb accommodations. Powell?s first embassy was Vienna, Austria, then East Africa's Bujumbura, Burundi, with his last mission in Ireland. He is the supply noncommissioned officer for the detachment and proud to be part of The Dublin.

A Virginian, Sgt Andrew Kim (traffic management specialist, MOS 3112), stands Post One on his second MSG assignment. His first was Nicosia, Cyprus. Sgt Kim is in charge of the Marine House mess. He joined the Corps because he knew "Marines were the first into Iraq and Afghanistan and because President Reagan said: 'Marines make a difference.' "

Prior to Marine Security Guard School, Sgt Baxter (helicopter crew chief, MOS 6174) was awarded two air medals in Af­ghanistan and authorized to wear the combat "V." The sergeant also worked recovery operations during hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Why did Sgt Baxter join the Marine Corps? "I wanted to be with the best outfit." He told his friends back in Los Ange­les: "Where else can I live in a $50 million mansion [Marine House, Dublin], interact with locals and learn a great deal on many subjects and get paid for it?" His first MSG post was Bamako, Mali, in West Africa. He is the assistant detachment com­mander for the Dublin Det.

Corporal Noel Bertrand is from Portland, Ore., with an administrative clerk occupational specialty, MOS 0121. After successfully completing the tough curriculum at MSG School, he headed to Doha, Qatar. During his second year, he was based at the embassy in Caracas, Vene­zuela, and now is serving on his final embassy assignment as the Dublin detachment's morale, welfare and recreation NCO and Birthday Ball NCO. Bertrand reflected: " "The Dub" was a godsend. The detachment commander is outstanding, and the other Marines are awesome."

The newest arrival at Marine House, Ireland is Cpl Robert Spahn from Tampa, Fla., also an admin clerk. "When I enlisted, I did not want to mess around. The Marine recruiters told it square. MSG duty is a great step forward; we get a security clearance, Marine security guard duty offers good contacts, and the brotherhood at MSG is strong." This young corporal's first posting was Kuwait, and he is the training NCO in Dublin.

Staff Sergeant Christopher Piazza, an infantry (0369) Marine, has one of the best jobs in the Corps. He enlisted right after high school. Piazza has received two meri­torious promotions and is a qualified Ma­rine Corps martial arts instructor trainer.

Deployed to Nasiriyah, Iraq, and later assigned to the antiterrorism battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., he then deployed to the U.S. Embassy/Green Zone in Baghdad. Accompanied by his family, he is on the first of two tours as an MSG detachment commander. His wife works at the embassy in Ireland and is a former Marine lieutenant. She joined the Corps because she noticed that "Marines love their jobs, and all I ever wanted was to love my work, so I became a Marine."

SSgt Piazza said, "This is a great chance to learn the field administration side of being a staff NCO."

The U.S. State Department has had a long and special relationship with the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps Embas­sy Security Group (MCESG) headquarters is located aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. It is a unique command: one that rivals some of the world's most prominent multinational corporations. The commanding officer, much like a CEO, has a daunting worldwide task.

His area of operations spans 18 time zones in 133 countries with detachments of Marine security guards standing post in 148 locations.

With nine regional commands located in five countries around the world, Col Vince Cruz's command has a mission that many other leaders would consider extremely challenging, to include operation of one of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Standards are high, and training is rigorous. The Marines selected for the Marine security guard program must have a personal and professional history that can stand the scrutiny required for a high-level security clearance. These Marines attend a six-week school. Their training includes security protocol, defensive tactics and weapons training, as well as an awareness of an embassy lifestyle, social etiquette and a country's local customs.

The qualified Marines, who complete this physically and mentally demanding school, spend the following three years at various posts around the globe. Some may be hardship posts and more austere than others, but all have the risks of danger and terrorist threats.

The days of the architecturally splendid embassies are history; the current security environment demands new and more complex State Department facilities, which are designed to meet the ever-changing force-protection standards. Ask our U.S. Em­bassy in Dublin's Regional Security Officer (RSO), Michael Rohlfs. He shows respect for Marines by stating with all sincerity: "Marine security guards are the steel spine of every embassy's security program. As individuals, Marine security guards serve as ambassadors, on both a professional and social level, to each coun­try in which they are assigned and continue to do so with professionalism and honor."

The mission for protecting embassies around the world is growing and so is the Marine headquarters tasked with providing trained Marines to U.S. embassies. A new MSG Training Center will have facilities modeled after a real embassy. The Training Center will replicate the environment the Marines will experience and defend when they stand watch at the traditional Post One in a place far from home.

Perhaps now you "get it," and you understand je ne sais quoi, that mysterious quality. Indeed, it is our splendid American Marines who embody the French phrase. When weary and stressed U.S. citizens who are troubled in a faraway clime and place arrive at our embassy or consulate, their first sight will be a welcomed one. It will be a disciplined warrior'a diplomat attired in dress blues and standing tall at Post One.

Author's note: A heartfelt fair winds to the late Col John Ripley, who made his last journey to Ireland to speak at the MSG mess night in Limerick and inspired this story, as well as to Col Vince Cruz and his MSG leathernecks, who motivate all who meet them.

Editor's note: Patrick "P.T." Brent, an infantry Marine, served with 2/24 and as a UPI military correspondent, embedded in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa.