Corps Stories Special Assignment: Marine Security Guards - London & Dublin 2016

   
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Special Assignment:
More Than A News Story - A Journalism Project

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A Wonderful Tale of Two Cities:
It Was the Best of Times

Marine Security Guards:
London  &  Dublin
2016
Important Background

Marine Corps Embassy Security Group Logo
Marine Corps Embassy
Security Group Logo
Marine Corps Embassy Security Group

The Marine Corps owns the unique capability of transforming one of its kind into a chameleon; suited and exceptionally useful in one environment and purpose, then wholly and perfectly altered to one poles apart.

The Marine Security Guard (MSG), or, officially, members of the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, are remarkable examples of such. Battle-hardened warriors of every sharpshooter skill and warfare talent as one of hundreds - are here a fitted crew of charming, soft-spoken, lightning fast and polished agents of protection.

Direct Contact

Since in-country MSG research in London and Dublin and before the publication of this story, two terrorist attacks occurred in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, despite the country having been on its highest terrorist alert since the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. Because of such, more press has been given to the years-long search for several hundred more MSGs by the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, to bolster its population from the current approximately 1,000 serving at the nearly 200 embassies and detachments worldwide.

In the last hundred years, nearly 50 attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions occurred worldwide. When attacked, MSGs are first in harm’s way. While a few assaults included rocks and bottles thrown over embassy property walls, most include gunfire, grenades, rockets, other explosives – including suicide bombers.

LtCol. Gregg Lyon, while on duty in England, 2010
This Special Assignment began a decade ago, when CorpsStories Marine LtCol. Gregg Lyon was assigned to England in 2007. He insisted I come to London and write about the MSGs. Other projects prohibited this Special Assignment from occuring then, but the seed was sown, and dreams of meeting those embassy Marines danced all those years.

Of the many London locations our U.S. embassy has stood, since 1959 the iconic building on Grosvenor Square has been its home. The thirty-five-foot golden eagle sculpture on its roof ensures the building is not mistaken.

So, although LtCol. Lyon suggested a CorpsStories Special Assignment nearly 10 years ago, only now has the project jelled. Perhaps a good thing; our MSGs are presently faced with - and prepared for - very vicious threats, making our acquaintance of them - as a unit and as individuals - very important.

MSG Award Ribbon
Marine Corps Embassy Security
Group Award Ribbon

MSG Demands

Any Marine, with any Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), may apply to the MSG program, which provides training in Quantico, Virginia. However, if the arduous selection process isn’t enough to narrow a candidate field, the personal life restrictions often is. MSGs must commit to not marrying during the three-year, three-embassy, tour. Although “why” was not asked, assumedly logistical issues of moving entire families across the globe every 12 months plays a significant role. And presumably, the need to house Marines all together at the embassy they protect is likely another deciding explanation.

Marine residences are very comfortable, and a professional cook is normally assigned to each detachment. Think luxe bachelor quarters: several common spaces dedicated to quiet reading, hi-tech gaming/TV/movie watching and darts/pool/bar are part and parcel to their living arrangements. Just like the embassy buildings, MSG residences appear expectedly sturdy and grand – yet are expansively fortified, even if such measures are not visible to the naked eye.

 

Marine Security Guards in England and Ireland-  2016
Begin in London
U.S. Embassy, London, United Kingdom

Style, and Tradition

Poets and historians have called London the greatest city in the world. It may be just that. Throughout the central London neighborhoods where our Marines live, and well beyond, everything within eyesight or earshot bursts with style or tradition, often both.

Polished red double-decker buses. Polished black taxis. Polished stainless steel. Scrubbed white marble stairs. Wide sidewalks, or “pavements”. Cobbled streets. White tablecloths. Black aprons. Raucous pub visitors. Pop music. Philharmonic music. Jeering football fans. Please. Madam. Sir. Thank you. Not at all. Of course. May I help? Here you are. Certainly. Yellow before red. Yellow before green. Spotless front doors. Sparkling house numbers. Glossy iron gates. Look right, not left. Granite statues in bubbling fountains. Manicured lawns. Blissful gardens.

Order. Manners. Traditions. Marines adapt to any culture, as necessary. However, in London they seemed innately comfortable - as such customs compliment Marine customs.

 
GySgt. Joshua Johnston, Detachment Commander,
U.S. Embassy, London, England
Gunnery Sergeant Joshua Johnston

Was slowly pacing, relaxed, as I stepped out of a black cab on the north side of the U.S. embassy. The afternoon was cool and sunny, but in late February
tourists were thin. Exhausted from the overnight flight, I put a shine on after an early check in. Thrilled to finally begin this mission too many years in the making, I strode past the London police walking in pairs and carrying machine guns. Able to spot a Marine a mile away in a crowd of thousands, despite my sorted condition that skill did not fail. Walking directly toward him, he pivoted gently and lit up a beautiful USMC-issue smile.

As hours in his company passed, observations of this senior Marine noncommissioned officer met every ideal expectation. As Detachment Commander of perhaps the most diplomatically important U.S. embassy in the world, much is required. Although relaxed and brotherly with this reporter, his manner shifted to cordial and professional during interactions with State Department personnel inside the embassy. While in the company of his Marines another shift took place. His tone was clear and formal, his expression concerned and intent, and his words deliberate.

With retirement less than two years off, Gy. Johnston is on the downhill. His teenage daughter will finish out her high school year in London, then its back to the U.S., as his duty in London, and as a MSG Det Cmdr. for three years, is coming to a close. His duty demands 18 months in two capitals; he left Thailand for England in 2014. His detachment there won Detachment of the Year in 2014, something worthy of great pride. He certainly deserves USMC victories - after miraculously surviving a UH-1N helicopter training crash in 2003 (his MOS is 6174, Helicopter Crew Chief), and horrendous warfare in Op Phantom Fury’s takedown of Fallujah in 2004 and 2005.

Of the many dozen messages exchanged before, during and after my visit his prompt, thoughtful and enthused responses never waned. It was clear how and why this Marine was selected for this critical post. Also clear were unspoken concerns he and his MSGs would meet with training and leadership, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our diplomatic interests, and our warriors. This small group of very brave Marines were carrying much expected, and much unexpected,  responsibility; no questions were necessary to assess threats they face.
 

Sgt. Chantley D. Hawkins, U.S. Marine House,
London, England
Sergeant Chantley D. Hawkins

23, is a renaissance, millennial Marine, if one ever existed. One of nine children, Sgt. Hawkins spent his childhood in foster homes. At 12 he was finally adopted by a couple who were in their sixties. Life could have been worse. It could have been far, far better, too.  

Rather than turn all that adversity into anger, Sgt. Hawkins channeled it toward his talents. Theatre, dance, music. During his junior year at Newport News, VA Woodside High, he was recruited by Tony Award winner Garth Fagan, to attend his New York dance school. Sadly for the world of dance, Sgt. Hawkins injured a hamstring and could not pursue the ballet and modern dance career awaiting him. He then chose the Marine Corps, where he sailed through boot camp.

He plays piano, guitar and violin expertly, other instruments, also. There was an 'embassy band' comprised of he and other State Dept. staff who were musicians. Together they joined famous acts including eighty’s English pop star Tony Moore for impromptu gigs. Now disbanded as the participants have moved to other duty stations, Sgt. Hawkins was gracious to fetch his Hermann Beyer copy of a Stradivarius, and record a video. A terrible upload
Admiralty Arch, London, England
-to-cloud hitch later deleted that treasure, and forced another London Marine house visit, which created another wonderful episode in this assignment - read on.

"There are so many musicians in this city," which makes London his favorite duty station of his Corps career - thus far.

Soon Sgt. Hawkins will be serving at another nation’s capital. He looks happily forward, despite missing his coastal Virginia home. Although possessing a MOS of 2111, Small Arms Technician, Sgt. Hawkins also owns an easy demeanor, a poet’s soul and an athlete’s mind.  The world is absolutely his oyster.

 
Sgt. Samuel J. McGowan, U.S. Marine House,
London, England

Sgt. Samuel J. McGowan

23, is a multi-faceted man. Complex science, music, tinkering, and Marine Corps.

London is the second of his three MSG posts; the first was Moscow, Russia where, “the weather is beautiful in summer,” he recalled. London has other benefits; lack of a language barrier and, “British are very polite in general, very helpful, which is nice.” A typical day off includes his love of music; he is self-taught playing bluegrass and country guitar.

Sgt. McGowan’s MOS is 1711, Water Supply Technician, which includes electrical and mechanical expertise. This training coincides well with his interest in historic military vehicles. At his own expense, he responded to a request from the Isle of Wight Tank Museum to help restore one the last remaining Self-Propelled Howitzers, FV3805. He took three days of leave and worked at the museum’s location on an island off the south
River Thames & London Eye, London, England
 coast of England. 

He will return to his native Arizona when he leaves the Marine Corps, to finish his double major at Arizona State University. He plans to finish up the double major of astrophysics and astrobiology, using the many AP credits he earned in high school. “If I discover an alien species, I’m naming it after myself,” he joked. Although his parents have moved to Montana since he joined the Marine Corps, Sgt. McGowan will remain in Arizona because, “the people are friendly and polite and very veteran supporting.”

Until then his work as an MSG is very rewarding, “you’re their 911, they call for all sorts of things,” Sgt. McGowan says of the daily calls to Post 1. He admits it’s stressful; help must come very quickly, “it’s so rewarding in its own right.”
 
Sgt. Edgar A. Jimeniz, U.S. Marine House,
London, England

Sergeant Edgar A. Jimeniz
Horse Guard Whitehall, London, England

23 hails from Laredo, Texas, a centuries old city on the Mexican border, known for its cultural excellence, historical importance and beautiful festivals. He graduated from J.W. Nixon High School, then joined the Marine Corps in 2012. In the two years before arriving in London last autumn, he was stationed at 29 Palms, in southern California.

Although Sgt. Jimeniz says London took some getting used to – cars, not pedestrians, have the right of way, massive crowds on the streets day and night, “just rains of out nowhere!” – there is much he enjoys. “Every day there is something to do,” he loves hanging out with the other Marines at the pub or the gym, and not having to drive anywhere because there is so much transportation.

“MSG duty makes opportunities after the Marine Corps better,” he said. Perhaps ones closer to home will be his preference. He misses his home and his family very much. With his easy smile and gentle voice, it is certain he is greatly missed as well.

 
Cpl. Cody D. Smith, U.S. Marine House,
London, England

Corporal Cody D. Smith
Regents' Park, London, England
Home to the residence of the U.S. Ambassador, Winfield House

22, of Bakersfield, California, was wrapping up his London duty – which he loved. “I will miss London in general. There is so much to do here; a year is definitely not time enough to do it all.” He graduated from South High in 2011, and soon went into the Corps.

Before London, his first MSG post was in Maputo, Mozambique, on the east coast of Africa. The fact that his African post was five minutes from the beach didn’t hurt. Neither did the cook who was assigned to the Marine House. Cpl. Smith reports that cook had previously cooked at a four-star hotel, and was known all over the capitol for his pizza. Still, it was London’s brilliant cook, Julie, who, “makes the best food I’ve ever had.”

Before MSG duty his MOS was 3531, Motor Transport, stationed in San Diego, California. He misses his family, but travel and foreign duty suits him. This Marine just lit up a room with his warm manner, and certainly he would be an asset to any MSG team. “It’s not really about the atmosphere, but the people you’re with. It’s all just about the people.”

Very wise for his young age.

 
Sgt. Mitch E. McDonald, U.S. Marine House,
London, England

Sergeant Mitch E. McDonald
Trafalgar Square, London, England

Is the oldest of five siblings from the tiny village of Kirkwood, Pennsylvania. His relatives live in Quarryville, both places near Lancaster. Since his 2011 high school graduation he joined the Corps, gained an MOS of 0311, Infantry Rifleman, which took him to South Korea, Japan and Thailand. 

As an MSG he has been busy as well. His first post was Quito, Ecuador, which he really enjoyed. From there he took trips to Peru and Brazil; “a nice, quiet, easy post,” he said with a smile. For his second post he went back to MSAU (MSG Augmentation Unit) for training and short posts in Burundi and Kenya. London is his third and final post, and fortunately he will get to ride out the year for an additional nine months until his contract ends.

“Pubs are conversations with beer, instead of beer with conversations, like in the States,” the most apt description of the unique experience British and Irish pubs offer. The cost of beer is high in London, and he’s not a fan of pub food, but his fellow MSG’s, “are pretty great.” He looks forward to trips on his time off to Denmark, Balkans as well as other places.

Sgt. McDonald is pursuing his bachelor of science in computer science with Penn State’s online program. By the time he returns to Pennsylvania he will have seized many wonderful opportunities the Marine Corps has offered.

 
Sgt. Charles R. Fishel, U.S. Marine House,
London, England

Sergeant Charles Fishel

26, is a Californian whose future lies in Virginia - not long after London. Just into his final MSG post, he has wrapped up service at our embassy in Tokyo, Japan, then at MSAU where he was sent from Quantico to assignments in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and Geneva, Switzerland.  
Big Ben, London, England

After graduating from University High School in Orange County, California in 2008, he studied at Orange Coast College for three semesters. Currently he is taking online courses through the University of Maryland toward a bachelor’s degree in sociology. With Virginia in his sights, finishing that degree at George Mason University while working in government intelligence is his plan, furthering use off his 0231 MOS, Intelligence Analyst.

Sgt. Fishel is mature and focused, “I’m saving for my future right now, but I have visited the London Eye and other tourist spots.”

Like all his fellow MSGs, this Marine is completely engaged in his current assignment. Although the lack of a language barrier makes life easier, England has been nothing but a pleasure for Sgt. Fishel. “Coming to London was something of dream, a fantasy. It’s a civilized city; I can go to the store and not have to worry about food quality,” he summed up with a grin.

 
Then, To Dublin
U.S. Embassy, Dublin, Ireland

Smart and Beautiful

On a cool, overcast February morning a long stroll around south Dublin was in order. So flat and scenic, routes for great physical training runs came to mind. Do these Marines marvel at the ancient architecture of churches and homes, as they run the beautiful streets and walkways in the neighborhoods in the embassy's Ballsbridge section? Surely they must. Broad and winding walkways with huge trees providing lovely shade, it would be hard to forget those routes even in old age. Clusters of shops, pubs and cafes appear block after block. Deep green lawns, even in late winter, surprise.

Yet the Dubliners are the most pleasant thing about this city, it seems. Of course many are good natured doing tourist business. But dig a little deeper and the conversations continues into complex subjects like politics or economy, without defense or disconnect. Average citizens know their government structure inside and out, understand local and national politics – and all the players, and the country’s history in great detail. Very refreshing circumstance for our Marines, no doubt. I have found, researching my Great Marines book series, if the top-tier USMC medal recipients were to be categorized by immigrant nationality, Irish immigrants would likely possess the most valor awards. Perhaps it is their natural phenomenal work ethic, perhaps their devotion to freedom. Either way, our Marines and diplomats in Ireland are welcomed and well-loved. Post Dublin would be a wonderful respite after more challenging capitals, and a terrible spoiler before.

 

GySgt. Nathan P. Cleary, Detachment Commander,
U.S. Embassy, Dublin, Ireland

Gunnery Sergeant Nathan P. Cleary

Is very poster-boyish. A native Californian, he is tall with broad shoulders, a strong chin and soft grin - and he fits perfectly in the land of his Irish ancestors. After 18 months in Senegal, Dublin must be the exhale. He argued; he actually very much enjoyed the beaches on the most western tip of Africa. He and his beautiful artist wife Saija, whom he met via a Corpsman friend; allow the Gunny to brag about her, and you’ll have a friend for life.

Once through embassy security, in the quiet capitol’s neighborhood his silent manners led us a few streets away to lunch at The Bridge 1859, a favorite restaurant for Marines and State Dept. staff, with interesting conversation in a charming atmosphere.

He is an example of the ‘new’ Marine Corps; not just hard-charger or quiet killer carrying a big stick. His recent MOS is 4821, Career Planner, or Career Retention Specialist, a very complex job. Initially Gy. Cleary’s MOS was 0352, Anti-tank Missleman, an infantry Marine who deals with massive guns (Javelin missiles, etc.); he was with 1st Marine Division’s 1st Tank Battalion during the invasion of Iraq in March 2002. Today however, he is who keeps Marines in the Corps; he understands and improves USMC retention and growth. Topics for discussion and resolution include training, injury and family needs require an intricate and patient mind, and an unassuming and encouraging leader in Gy. Cleary.

As the visit progressed I had the privilege of observing a fire drill. I watched the entire team engage and resolve a reported ‘fire’ inside the embassy (this was not a real event, just a routine preparedness drill). What struck the most was how these young Marines responded to their boss. Upon the immediate post-drill debrief, each face filled with an intense concerned expression, silently requesting feedback. With few words and soft tones, he gave his thoughts, which were met with relief - and proud smiles. No boasting, no joking - and no uncertainty.

Once again, the powers that be made an outstanding selection in this Marine leader.

 

 
Sgt. William H. Hart, V, U.S. Embassy,
Dublin, Ireland

Sergeant William Henry Hart V

29, was the oldest of the Marines interviewed for this assignment, and who had accomplished the most before entering the Marine Corps.

Raised in Detroit, Michigan, Sgt. Hart graduated in 2005 from East Detroit High School. He then earned an associate’s degree in applied fire science, which he will use when he leaves the Marine Corps in 2018 as a volunteer fire fighter.

His primary occupation however was working in a third-generation family business associated with the automobile industry. Protofab Corporation manufactures and sells custom sheet metal parts. Sgt. Hart worked there with his father before joining the Marine Corps, and will continue to do so after he leaves.
Leeson Street Bridge over Grand Canal, Dublin, Ireland

Once in the Corps – which he joined on 11 September 2011 - Sgt. Hart gained a Field Radio Operator MOS, 0621 and served in that capacity for three years. He joined the MSG program and was assigned to Addis Abba, Ethiopia before coming to Ireland.

He will leave the Corps with much training, experience and travel behind him, and a family legacy ahead.
 
Sgt. Eric M. Ingram, Asst. Det. Cmdr., U.S. Embassy,
Dublin, Ireland

Sergeant Eric M. Ingram

24, is a Pickering, Ohio native, who graduated from Pickering North High School in 2009, then joined the Marine Corps the following year. His MOS is 2841, Ground Radio Repairer, and worked for the Corps in that capacity for three years before joining the MSG program.

There is much work as an MSG and Sgt. Ingram has a mind for it, which those on high have apparently noticed. His first post was in Rabat, Morocco, in a rather active region - with regard to international diplomatic activity. From there he was assigned to Moscow, Russia. To end the program in Dublin, gaining the position of Assistant Detachment Commander does not surprise.

Sgt. Ingram was an Eagle Scout before joining the Corps; his community project was the installation of an inclusive playground at the elementary school where his mother taught.
Baggot Street Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

The District awaits apparently; Sgt. Ingram would like to study foreign policy and French at Georgetown University, and intern with the State Department there in Washington, upon his contact with the Marine Corps conclusion in December.

No doubt, excellence lies ahead for this warrior.

 
Cpl. Parker Noland, U.S. Embassy, Dublin, Ireland

Corporal Parker Noland

Corporal Parker Noland, 24 is an Irish Texan. Proud of his Great State upbringing, he is also proud of his Irish ancestry. “I’m Irish and I’ve always wanted to come to Ireland.” A nice way to wrap up his three years of duty; he spent a year in Gaborone, Botswana, another in Manila, Philippines. “Africa was dry and hot. Philippines was wet and hot. It’s nice not to be hot.”

However a sense of humor is not what will be remembered most about Cpl. Noland; it will be his commitment to duty. He and Sgt. Setner were off duty when the fire alarm call was sounded. Most likely they knew it was coming. Whether or not they knew beforehand, they certainly knew it was a drill once it came. Still, their training overtook whatever relaxed notions they may have had. Observing from outside the embassy building, this journalist will never forget the speed they hauled it from the Marine House through Dublin’s streets on foot; they were flying. More unforgettable was the expression on Cpl. Noland’s face: this was not a drill, this was not training, this was the real thing and he was completely focused (once again, this was indeed a drill.) He sought eye
Grand Canal, Dublin, Ireland
 contact with his Gunny as he rolled past, headed to where their equipment lives, to load up, and then to extinguish any threat of harm. By then these Marines were covered in sweat and riding out the adrenaline. Although his MOS was 2171, missile repair (Electa-optical Ordnance Repairer) Cpl. Noland is all MSG these days.

Not surprisingly a great student who carries an A average, Cpl. Noland is working on his bachelor’s degree in dietetics via American Military University. He will continue on with his master’s degree through an online program with University of Texas. Meanwhile he enjoys cross-fit at the Marine house and at a Dublin gym. Whatever he pursues, this Marine will continue to give it far more than a 100 percent effort.

 

 
a 
Sgt. Zachary J. Senter, U.S. Embassy, Dublin, Ireland

Sergeant Zachary J. Senter

22, was the youngest sergeant interviewed during this special assignment. His personality is inherently relaxed, although he clearly excels at whatever he pursues.

He graduated from North Rockland High School in Stoney Point New York in 2011, and on the 10th anniversary of September 11th he also shipped to Parris Island for boot camp (as did Sgt. Hart). With an MOS of 6253, Fixed-wing Airframe Aircraft Mechanic, Sgt. Senter, “learned a nice little trade with the planes,” as he put it. Specifically, he worked on the EA-6B Prowler in Cherry Point, NC, and later in Qatar. Something he
 
Dome of Church Mary Immaculate, South Dublin, Ireland
 can use after his Marine Corps days, which will be in 2018. Then his first goal will be catching up with a group of close school friends who are now scattered all over the country, and spend a good bit of time snowboarding in Colorado.

Just wrapping up his first embassy tour, after our interview he was soon off to another nation's capital, with a bit of sadness about leaving the Land of Eire.

 
London, Once More

It was quiet around the Marine House after dark. The city doesn't sleep, but loud and raucous their neighborhood has never been.

Inside, the Marines were sleeping or otherwise allowing Marines to sleep. Because of his watch hours, spotty Internet availability, and communications disconnects, Sgt. Hawkins had been resting when I finally arrived late that Saturday evening, having travelled all day from Ireland.

Like an old friend, he was gracious about my delay, and happy to accommodate my insistence: I refused to leave England without video of his brilliant playing. As viewers can see and hear, from memory he played a long Irish reel with soaring highs and mournful lows, completely effortlessly. This man, whom fate has dealt difficulty, adversity, instability and challenge has found talent, passion, strength, humor, charm, commitment and honor.

New Bond Street, London, England
This is who populates our Marine Corps.

On that clear and dark night, I set off away from the Marine House in beautiful Mayfair. Not an unusual site in that neighborhood, the new Lamborghini parked out front demanded acknowledgement.

Sgt. Hawkins whispered, “are you leaving your car here for me?” My smiling reply, “No, I'm off for a little stroll, I'll be back for it!” We both laughed at the notion, as I walked away; his reel playing beautifully in my mind. I hummed it all the way through New Bond Street and to Piccadilly, to sleep before an early flight.

Mission accomplished.