This is my first weekend visiting my daughter and her family thousands of miles south of Carson City, where we’re having dinner in a downtown restaurant with seven members of the American embassy’s Marine Security Guard detachment. My son-in-law spent three years in two different Marine Security Guard detachments, so he likes to keep contact with them where he now works in private industry.
These are great guys: clean-cut, respectful, filled with youthful energy but aware of the seriousness of their assignment and the responsibility they carry. When on duty, they stand out from other embassy personnel in their distinctive dress uniform or their BDUs; in their civilian clothes they still wear their pride outwardly.
Marines are not stationed at our embassies to get in gun battles with local bad guys, despite what Hollywood depicts. They have, on rare occasions, exchanged small arms fire with attackers to delay a possible invasion and give time for local authorities to respond. Their real mission, though, is to protect the classified material that’s housed in the embassy building: documents and communications equipment that’s supposed to be secured at the end of each day and that would have to be destroyed if the building was taken over by an unruly mob.
Tonight they are relaxing with friends, and there’s no swagger, no ostentatious display of military toughness — just friendly banter and conversation about life after this assignment. These guys are good, but not boastful; they know they are fit and tough and don’t need to prove it. Several had combat tours behind them, including at least one Purple Heart from Afghanistan.
Tomorrow they will be standing guard at the embassy’s front door, the first official American every visitor to our building sees. Or they’ll be inspecting the embassy after hours, looking for classified documents that were inadvertently thrown in the waste basket rather than the burn bag, and writing up offenders from the lowliest clerk to the ambassador himself. I’ll admit to having received two such “pink slips” during my career.
As we talked around the table, I learned where they came from, where they had served before the embassy guard program, and future plans. The Marine to my left hoped to start training as a smoke-jumper with the California Forestry Department. Next to him was an older Marine who was going to make a career of his service. And across the table sat a young man who planned to start his own trucking business in Texas.
My dinner companions were the age of protestors who had trashed Ferguson, Mo., for the past few months, but there were no sagging pants or coarse language at this table. Nor did they dream of free handouts from the government; they planned instead to be productive members of society when they finished their commitment and left the corps.
It was impossible not to compare them to the ill-kempt people in baggy clothes we all saw on TV breaking into a convenience store in Missouri, and wonder why our President and Attorney General didn’t challenge the youth in Ferguson to act like differently instead of the way they did.
These guys feel good about America’s future, and they make me feel the same way. Semper fi, guys!
Fred LaSor served in the U.S. Foreign Service in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He is retired now in Minden.