View Full Version : To cure manning woes, security guard program aims to boost assignment appeal

05-04-04, 02:51 PM
Issue Date: May 03, 2004

Three years, three embassies
To cure manning woes, security guard program aims to boost assignment appeal

By Gordon Lubold
Times staff writer

They call it the new “3 by 36” plan. In an attempt to address chronic manning problems within the Marine Security Guard program, officials are reinvigorating the special duty with a major recruiting drive and a new assignment process that will put Marines in more countries but for shorter periods of time.
Beginning April 23, Marines graduating from MSG school in Quantico, Va., will serve three, 12-month tours in different countries instead of the two, 15-month tours they now serve.

Typically, MSGs have drawn two assignments, one that is considered a “hardship tour” and another that could be called a “comfort tour.” That said, however, Marines always are assigned according to “the needs of the Corps” — meaning there are no guarantees of snaring a “comfort tour.”

But by adding six months to the tour and splitting assignments up among three countries, officials say embassy guards will have a better shot at getting the country of their choice, stay sharper during each tour, and return to the fleet as more well-rounded Marines.

The program, says Maj. Lew Vogler, operations chief for the program, “makes a good Marine even better.”

Not body snatchers

When Marines began to head home from Iraq last year, officials in charge of special-duty assignments — recruiters, drill instructors, Marine Security Guards and now School of Infantry instructors — saw a decline in the number of Marines volunteering for the various duties.

Manpower officials didn’t know for sure, but they sensed that Marines returning from combat believed they had already “checked a box” and that their combat duty alone would keep their career on track.

But the trend also pointed out a long-standing manning problem within the MSG program, which staffs 133 embassies and consulates around the world.

At any one time over the last decade, the program was short as many as 80 Marines — roughly 10 percent of its overall staffing, according to Capt. Rory Nichols, assistant operations officer at the battalion.

The shortage is partly due to the mind-set of commanders across the fleet, who tend to resist giving up their best and brightest for the elite duty, and therefore don’t sell the program within their units, Vogler said.

“There is an aversion to let the Marines know about it because they might be losing their best squad leader, their best platoon sergeant,” Vogler said.

Empowered by new leadership at the battalion last year, Vogler went on what he calls an “education crusade” to help commanders understand one thing about the program: MSG recruiters aren’t body snatchers, they’re Johnny Appleseeds.

When he goes on recruiting drives to drum up interest in the program, Vogler says he isn’t trying to steal the best Marines away, but to borrow good Marines for a time and return them as even better Marines.

“We’re trying to educate commanders to say we’re here to plant the seed,” he said.

Marines can apply for the program up to a year before they would start, which Vogler noted is plenty of time for the Marine to deploy with his current unit. Likewise, after the Marine finishes embassy duty, he returns to his job specialty a better Marine, he said.

“We’re giving [the unit] back a sergeant that has had as much leadership, judgment and responsibility as some gunnies,” Vogler said.

A crank call

Charlie McKinney served in Turkey and Algiers in the 1960s. Now an officer with the Marine Embassy Guard Association, McKinney recalls getting the call to duty on a crank-phone in his tent during training on Hawaii in 1964.

McKinney was told his commanding officer wanted to see him about something. Minutes later, McKinney learned he was getting a new assignment to MSG duty.

When asked if he had any questions, McKinney had but one: “What’s MSG duty?”

Two years later, he was convinced it was the best duty in the Corps, he said.

Though Marines have been guarding embassies around the world since 1948, MSG program officials say embassy duty remains a mystery to many Marines today. Not enough Marines know about the program, in part because recruiting has all been word-of-mouth.

Vogler said a new recruiting drive will put MSG Marines on so-called “road shows” at bases and stations to drum up interest. A new Web site is being developed to publish information about the program and tell stories about embassy guards. And there is talk of changing “Marine Security Guard” to another name that better suits the job. “Embassy guard” is a strong possibility.

McKinney said he supports the recruiting efforts and the changes to the assignment process, saying it will help keep them sharp.

Marines on duty for 15 or more months — many Marines can be extended due to manning shortages — may become too familiar with their surroundings and begin to take too much for granted, McKinney said.

“There is always that chance to lose that edge,” he said. The change will “sharpen up each detachment to a better degree.”

Always watchful

Sgt. Derek Hawkins, a radio repairman assigned to a reserve squadron in Great Lakes, Ill., finished an MSG tour last fall.

Though he doesn’t think Marines get complacent on duty, he says he likes the change to the assignment process and believes the program can suffer from misconceptions.

“A lot of Marines think [embassy guards] stand in front of a building with blues on,” he said.

Not quite.

The duty requires a high level of vigilance and self-motivation, he said. And the impact a single Marine can have can be far greater than any one thing an infantryman assigned to Iraq could have, officials said.

This spring, a watchful MSG assigned to a consular post in Pakistan helped avert a terrorist attack after he noticed a suspicious van parked nearby. He notified local police, who discovered a tank full of explosives inside the truck that was set to blow in just minutes. The police detonated the bomb elsewhere without injuries.

Also, Hawkins said, the quality of life is pretty sweet. In Peru, Hawkins got a four-day weekend every month — in addition to regular days off — making it possible for him to visit other countries in Central and South America.

When Marines in the program aren’t manning posts, they live in what’s called a Marine House, which may or may not be on the grounds of the embassy. There, the Marines have their own cook and a driver, access to their own weightlifting equipment and, depending on the duty station, first-run movies on wide-screen televisions.

“We live like rock stars,” he said.



05-08-04, 01:36 PM
I was on MSG duty in the early sixties. Later I went FMF where i knew several sharp young grunts had turned the duty down because they didn't know anything about it. Soundslike the same problem , in- sufficient knowledge about Marine Security Guard Duty.It was and is some of the best duty in the Marine Corps.

Semper Fi