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Bill Miller, director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), and Brig. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, director of the Strategy and Plans Division for Plans, Policies and Procedures, exchange ceremonial rudae at a celebration of the centennial of the DSS and 70th anniversary of the Marine Security Guard program, June 29 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. While the MSG program has only formally existed for 70 years, Marines have been guarding U.S. diplomatic interests since the early years of the country.

Photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner

Diplomatic Security celebrates 100 years of service and partnership with Quantico school

25 Jul 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

“You forget a suit and a tie, but you never forget a Marine in dress blues,” said Bill Miller, director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). The organization held an event June 29 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps celebrating DSS’s centennial and its relationship with the Marine Corps Embassy Security Guard (MCESG) program.

DSS originated when security professionals first joined the U.S. Department of State in 1916 as part of World War I-era security measures. These special agents protected U.S. and foreign dignitaries, and investigated passport fraud and international espionage plots.

The MCESG program was formalized with the Foreign Service Act of 1946, which authorized the Secretary of the Navy to assign enlisted Marines to guard U.S. embassies, legations, and consulates. Today, specially-screened Marines are trained at the MCESG school aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico and then serve at 174 embassies and consulates in 135 countries around the world, where they often serve as the first line of defense against terrorist attacks.

“These Marines are the face of America and they represent the best of America,” Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr said at the celebration.

While the relationship between the Marine Corps and DSS was formalized only 70 years ago, speakers at the event noted that Marines have been cooperating with the Department of Defense, and the prior Department of War, since the early days of the nation. Marines provided shipboard security for expeditions throughout the Continental era. Lt. Presley O’Bannon led a group of Marines and mercenaries to Tripoli to free the crew of the captured U.S.S. Philadelphia, an attempt immortalized in the Marines’ Hymn. In 1900, Smedley Butler, then a young Marine lieutenant, led a movement to break a siege on Beijing’s foreign legation district, where 55 diplomatic partners of the U.S. were located.

One of the first posts to be stood up was at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, where 12 Marines were sent after the American Consul General was killed there in 1948. And the last two casualties of the Vietnam War were Cpl. Charles McMahon and Lance Cpl. Darwin Judge, Marine Security Guards (MSGs) posted to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, who were killed by a North Vietnamese rocket attack on April 29, 1975.

Including McMahon and Judge, 11 MSGs have been killed or died as a result of protecting U.S. personnel or property abroad. The most recent is Sgt. Jesse Aliganga, who was killed in the embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998.

“Marine Security Guards are the first in line, the first responders, and they’re often the last to leave,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, director of the Strategy and Plans Division within Plans, Policies, and Operations, which oversees MCESG. “They have stood in the face of riots and political unrest to ensure the U.S. diplomatic mission for the last 100-plus years. On Christmas Day, Monday, and any day, the Marine is armed and ready to act.”

“This relationship is just so special, it’s hard to describe,” Starr said. “We don’t ask the Army or the Air Force, we appreciate the Navy, but we turn to the Marines. Quite frankly, our job could not be done without you.”

“I can tell you that there is no healthier relationship in the U.S. government,” Miller said.

After the remarks, Mahoney and Miller, representing the Marine Corps and the Department of State respectively, exchanged matching rudae (wooden swords that were presented to gladiators in ancient Rome upon their liberation) symbolizing the relationship between the two organizations. The rudae were used to cut a celebratory cake.

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