22d MEU trains for embassy reinforcement mission

20 Jan 2004 | Capt. Eric R. Dent

In 1996, ABC News referred to the U.S. Embassy to Liberia in Monrovia as that war-torn country's 'last bastion of sanity.'  Keeping the embassy grounds safe and ensuring the civil war raging through the country stayed outside its walls were Marines from the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

To prepare for a repeat of such a mission during its upcoming deployment, the 22d MEU executed the reinforcement of a notional U.S. embassy during its recent Special Operations Capable Exercise (SOCEX).

Tasked with the reinforcement mission were Marines from Golf Battery, the artillery unit assigned to Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, the MEU's ground combat element.  They arrived by helicopter near the embassy under the cover of darkness and quickly made their way to the compound less than a mile away from their landing zone aboard Camp Lejeune.  At the same time, additional MEU Marines arrived with armored vehicles outfitted with heavy machine guns and established security on avenues of approach to the embassy.

After Golf Battery's leaders arrived and met with the MEU's forward command element (FCE) and the embassy's Regional Security Officer (RSO), they began to improve the defense.  During the hour that followed, the Marines established posts at various locations around the embassy and manned watch sections. 

"The reinforcement command quickly and professionally established liaison and allowed us [embassy staff] to continue with our diplomatic mission," said Christopher Stitt, a Diplomatic Security Service Chief for the Department of State.  Stitt participates in numerous training events each year to help prepare MEUs for missions they may face during their deployments. 

Early the next morning, protestors (portrayed by off-duty Marines) launched insults and taunts at the stone-faced artillery Marines.  The Marines, most of whom wore non-lethal protection like shin guards and helmet visors while others carried riot shields, gave warnings to the crowd and yet, several protestors attempted to breach the embassy fence.  Streams of Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), an extract of cayenne pepper in a spray form, provided an instantaneous response: breach contained.  Painfully reminded that these Marines were serious about their mission, the crowd began to diminish and eventually left the scene.

Over the course of the next several days, representatives from the II Marine Expeditionary Force who oversaw and evaluated the reinforcement mission threw a host of problems at the 22d MEU Marines.  A backpack tossed over the embassy's fence tested the responsiveness of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Marines assigned to the reinforcement team and prompted the placement of additional strands of concertina wire around the embassy's fence to create more of a barrier.   

The appearance of a large truck failing to stop at a checkpoint, eerily reminiscent of the bombing at the American Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, prompted the outer security ring of vehicles to neutralize the threat.  Meanwhile, snipers perched in numerous vantage points around the compound keep a constant and wary eye of the crowd mingling around the embassy, and more than once eliminated threats to the compound before they could be realized.

'Ambassador' Raymond L. Brown, another State Department trainer, expressed his pleasure at having Marines at the embassy by saying that the Marines did a tremendous job, allowing him and his staff to focus on the diplomatic mission.

Capt. Jim Martin, the BLT 1/6's Assistant Operations Officer, stressed the importance of this mission as the 22d MEU prepares to deploy next month.

"We [the Marine Corps] have done numerous embassy reinforcements, and we know that with the global war on terrorism, we must be prepared to execute this type of mission," said Martin, a native of Whitehouse Station, N.J.  He continued by saying the Battery Marines executed their mission aggressively and with the utmost professionalism.

Recent history reveals this type of training is prudent.  In addition to the embassy in Liberia in 1996, the 22d MEU has executed similar missions in Beirut, Liberia in 1990, the Central African Republic, Zaire, the Congo, Albania, and most recently, Karachi, Pakistan during its 2002 deployment.

The 22d MEU will deploy in mid-February aboard the amphibious assault ships WASP, SHREVEPORT AND WHIDBEY ISLAND alongside a destroyer, two cruisers, and a fast-attack submarine.  The name of this collective group is Expeditionary Strike Group 2.

For more information on the mission, organization, and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit