As with other special duties like Drill Instructor, Marine Security Guards (MSG) are a small and coveted community of enlisted personnel that are temporarily removed from their Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) to take on a wholly unique challenge. In this case, it’s one of the most daunting out there: Our nation’s embassies throughout the world, through calm and storm, are guarded day and night by MSG teams sometimes as lean as five members, where they “provide armed internal security to designated US Diplomatic and Consular facilities . . . equipment vital to the national security . . . [and] US Citizens and US Government property,” according to the Marine Corps MOS Manual.
That’s a tall order, and it isn’t all about guns and bashing heads. Embassy guards, operating in an environment where diplomacy is as vital to the national interest as firepower, must act in their own small way as ambassadors for the United States, showing maturity, restrained judgment, and refined character.
Although embassy duty is a crucial aspect of the Marines’ mission with a long tradition, the Corps is only budgeted to train and maintain a limited cadre of guards to cover over 100 embassies worldwide. Training is intense, expensive, and tends to produce “washouts” due to high standards. Because of all this, the Corps guards embassy duty very closely to avoid spending training dollars on Marines who can’t live up to the commitment.
Marines may begin applying once they’re lance corporals (E-3), and the duty is open to all ranks above with the exception of some senior enlisted whose rise to the top ranks could interfere with their ability to complete a full tour of duty. Sergeants (E-5) and below enter the program as guards, while staff sergeants (E-6) and above, regardless if they’ve served embassy duty before, are trained to command an embassy guard detachment.
Further requirements are listed on the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group (MCESG) website, and in the Marine Corps Special Duty Assignments Manual (SDAMAN) but they can be summed up like this: You must be able to do your job without letting anything get in the way. Sergeants and below, for example, are immediately disqualified if they’re married, while staff sergeants and above if married, must ensure that their dependent family members are in perfect health. Pregnancy, felony convictions, and a history of alcohol abuse are all deal-breakers. All applicants (and their dependent family members) must be US citizens -- never dual citizens -- and guards must be able to receive a top secret security clearance (so watch your credit debts.)
But that’s not all. After an interview with your commanding officer, you must pass a screening interview with the staff of the MCESG. These Marines tend to go on around-the-Corps tours each year to screen and recruit qualified guards at major bases, though Marines stationed remotely -- such as active duty staff at reserve units -- may have to travel to Quantico or arrange a phone interview to get the job done.
Marine Security Guard School at Quantico, VA lasts only six weeks (eight for staff sergeants and above training to command a detachment.) That’s half the length of the Marines’ infamous boot camp, but don’t be fooled: According to Pentagon official Captain Gregory Wolf (speaking to USA Today) about a quarter of all students are eliminated from the course as instructors separate the wheat from the chaff.
And although the SDAMAN mildly reports that training “provided jointly by the Marine Corps and the Department of State” includes academic instruction on “duties and indoctrination for living in an overseas environment,” Lance Corporal Antwaun Jefferson, Quantico Sentry reporter, adds that students will have to endure physical challenges “with courses that include being OC sprayed.” In other words, there are the usual high physical training standards you’d expect of Marines plus you have to do it after someone blasts you in the face with pepper spray. But it’s only six weeks, right?
The OC spraying routine -- and of course the high standards at the schoolhouse -- turn out Marines you can trust to man the turrets when American interests are threatened, represent all that is best about America, and even get your daughter home on time. Maybe not that last part. But she just couldn’t resist the dress blues.