As the Marine Corps stands up new embassy detachments in hot spots around the world, leaders are looking for hundreds of leathernecks to serve as "ambassadors in blue."
The Corps needs about 400 more Marine security guards to secure embassies and consulates across the globe. For Marines, the special duty assignment can provide unique opportunities with big career benefits.
The service was called on to boost the number of its Marine security guards by 1,000 following the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya. The move nearly doubles the number of MSGs.
Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told lawmakers in March that more than half of those spots have been filled.
"Today, Marines are routinely serving at 174 embassies and consulates in 146 countries around the globe," Neller wrote in congressional testimony. "...We have added 603 Marines to the previously authorized 1,000 Marine security guards — 199 in new detachments."
Embassy duty is one of the few ways to boost a Marine's shot at promotion in a more competitive post-drawdown Marine Corps. Marines receive 100 points upon graduating the school, and meritorious promotions are not uncommon.
That's largely because the duty forces Marines to operate independently, which helps them pick up invaluable skills that they bring back to the fleet, said Sgt. Maj. Juan Alvarado, the top enlisted leader with the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group in Quantico, Virginia. MSG detachments are responsible for their own administrative, operations and logistics duties, he said. When they return to the operational forces, this diverse experience often affords former MSGs the opportunity to serve in roles outside the traditional career pipeline.
MSGs also become well informed about national and international events, said Alvarado, who has served with MSGs in places like Brazil and Malaysia. He also served as first sergeant of the ESG's Region 6, which was responsible for detachments in 14 sub-Saharan African countries.
MSGs are also well compensated for their service. While standard special duty pay runs $75 per month, a corporal with three years time-in-service will see that bump up to $580 for Congo, $680 in Singapore, and $1,200 in Switzerland.
MSG duty is also a good option for Marines eager to serve overseas. Though very different than a dusty firebase in Afghanistan, many embassies are in dangerous places where a handful of Marines serve as the first line of defense.
With fewer combat deployments and the drawdown increasing competition to stay in uniform, special duty assignments provide opportunities for Marines to stand out among their peers. Serving as an MSG can go a long way in helping Marines gain an edge at promotion time.
An MSG tour is also a big stepping stone for civilian jobs. In addition to highly marketable security training, MSGs obtain a top secret clearance and language training.
Here’s what it takes to join their exclusive ranks.
Physical requirements. Applicants must be 64 inches tall and have first-class physical and combat fitness test scores. Tattoos do not immediately disqualify, but ink that may pass Marine Corps regulations could be seen as offensive in a foreign diplomatic setting. All tattoos are approved on a case-by-case basis.
Career requirements. The Embassy Security Group is looking for mature and intelligent Marines who can operate independently and in very small units, said Col. Rollin Brewster, the commanding officer. Corporals must have ratings of 4.2/ 4.2 or higher. Applicants cannot have nonjudicial punishments or a Page 11 entries within the past year.
Marines must show financial stability and have at least $800 in the bank. They must also be U.S. citizens with 38 months of obligated service prior to attending MSG school. Sergeants and below must have 18 months on station, and staff noncommissioned officers must have at least 12 months in grade and 24 months on station. Some exceptions can be made depending on the duty station and assignment.
Education requirements. A general technical score of 90 is required for sergeants and below, and 100 for staff NCOs. This requirement cannot be waived.
If a Marine is short, he or she can retake the ASVAB to earn a higher score. All PME (resident and nonresident) must be up to date, and applicants must have completed a host of MarineNet courses like Terrorism Awareness, Math for Marines, Weapons Handling Safety Rules and Personal Financial Management.
Family requirements. Sergeants and below cannot be married or have sole custody of any dependents. Sergeants with dependents can volunteer for a 36-month tour with the Marine Security Guard Security Augmentation Unit, located at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
Staff NCOs cannot have more than four dependents (and none younger than 9 months old), and cannot have any family members assigned to the Exceptional Family Member Program, which helps Marine families dealing with special needs. The spouse must be a U.S. citizen, though dependents can hold dual citizenship
Marines interested in MSG duty should contact their career planners.
From there, their commanding officer must verify that they meet all the requirements for the special duty assignment. Applicants must also notify their unit security manager to start the clearance process. An adjudicated secret clearance is required before Phase 2, in which the career planner submits the necessary paperwork and applicants meet with embassy security guard recruiters.
Once a Marine has orders to report to MSG school, they must pass medical, dental and security screenings. Finally, their CO and sergeant major must certify that they meet all necessary requirements before they report to MSG school.
Marines can visit the Embassy Security Group's website or contact the recruiting and screening team at 703-432-2701 for more information.