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Infantry Marines deploy; fill gap in demand for embassy security

Sep. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Marines and sailors with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, a rifle company out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., prepare to board buses for a deployment to an embassy in the Middle East on Sept. 14.
Marines and sailors with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, a rifle company out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., prepare to board buses for a deployment to an embassy in the Middle East on Sept. 14. (Cpl. Timothy Lenzo/Marine Corps)
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The Corps is turning to traditional infantry Marines to backfill embassy security as the service scrambles to add the 1,000 new guards mandated by Congress.

About 100 Marines and sailors with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines — a rifle company out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. — deployed on Saturday to immediately reinforce an embassy in U.S. Central Command.

While the Corps has been given instructed to expand its embassy security guard force by 1,000, Marine officials can't wait for that to occur, said Maj. Gen. Frederick Padilla, director of operations at Marine Corps headquarters. This deployment is “a path toward that,” he said.

“The demand is now, and so we're covering down on those demands with forward-deployed forces,” he added.

The Marines spent four months training for the deployment, which will be focused on defensive operations and non-lethal weapons employment, said Capt. A. Hudson Reynolds, a public affairs officer with 1st Marine Division.

Since they’ll be reinforcing existing security aboard the embassy, their mission required a specific type of training.

“For pre-deployment training typical of a Marine rifle company, their training focused less on typical conventional or even counter-insurgency skills,” Reynolds said. “They trained such skills as expeditionary site security, interior guard, force protection, crowd-control techniques, rules of engagement and escalation of force.”

The Corps typically relies on Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams to reinforce security at diplomatic posts. FAST teams are deployed around the world and receive specialized training to include some of which the 1/1 Marines conducted before this deployment.

Marine officials declined to comment on where 1/1 has deployed, but Commandant Gen. Jim Amos has said previously that there are Marine forces outside the embassy security guard program providing additional security in Libya and Yemen. A new crisis-response force deployed for the first time in April and now mans security in Libya, so it is likely 1/1 will be in Yemen.

Their deployment timeline is also unclear, although Reynolds said it will be “less than a standard seven-month deployment.”

Boosting the number of Marine security guards by 1,000 will take another 16 months, said Capt. Eric Flanagan, a spokesman at the Pentagon. It’s the result of a congressional mandate following last year’s deadly attack on a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Built into that expansion is a new unit composed of nine or 10 squad-sized teams ready to provide immediate embassy security reinforcement. It’s called the Marine Security Augmentation Unit, and the teams can respond directly to calls from the ambassador, chief of mission or regional security officer at an embassy in trouble.

But like the rest of the boost mandated by Congress, the Marine Security Augmentation Unit is not at full strength yet. By the end of the year, half of the 122-person unit will be operational, Flanagan said.

Even without being fully staffed, those teams have already deployed, he added, highlighting the high demand from the State Department for additional security at embassies and consulates worldwide. That’s where Marines like those with 1/1 can step in and fill gaps.

“There are some people out there that want to do harm to the United States, and the largest target out there is some of our embassies,” said Capt. Peter Hersey, the company commander, according to a Marine Corps news release. “We are going out there to an embassy. If someone decides to attack that embassy, we’ll be there to defend it.”

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