Ambassador’s speech in celebration of the 240th anniversary of the U.S. Marines

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening,

I had an eccentric former ambassador once give a full-hour Marine Corps Ball speech about the late Boston Red Sox player Ted Williams (who may or may not have had his head cryogenically frozen).  For 59 minutes we had no idea why our ambassador was talking emotionally about this late baseball player, but it turns out he was also a Marine.  So I’ve promised my wife two things:  be brief and no mention of baseball.

We gather here tonight to celebrate the founding of the U.S. Marine Corps, one of America’s great institutions.  The Marines are a group of men and women known for their strength, valor and toughness.  They are the first in to a battle and the last out.  They take on only the toughest missions.  Their motto is Semper Fidelis, “Always Faithful” and over their long and storied history they have proven to be just that — answering their country’s call to duty early and without hesitation.

Even now, as we sit here enjoying this celebration, the U.S. Marine Corps is proving “always faithful” as they stand guard in some of the most difficult and dangerous places on earth.  They are gathering in large chow halls across Afghanistan. They are gathering together as units between patrols to cut cake in places like Baghram, Kabul, and Kandahar.  They are gathering on board ships in the Persian Gulf and the Pacific; they are gathering together on their bases in Okinawa, Quantico, Twenty-nine Palms, and Camp Lejeune.

As we celebrate the 240th birthday of the Marine Corps tonight, we honor not only the men and women fighting in far off lands, we honor the Marines that serve with us every day at U.S. Embassies around the world including here in Tirana.  Gunny Sgt. Tim Greene, Sgt. Giovani Orellana, Sgt. Kody Kiesow, Sgt Salvador Gallardo, Sgt. Jacob Osborne, Sgt. Diego Vargas, and Cpl. Nick LaPointe.

The deployment of Marine Security Guards at Embassies started 67 years ago, just after the end of World War II.  Their primary mission is to protect lives and property in times of danger and make sure we keep our secrets safe, but the Marines are also the familiar and friendly face of America to the outside world at most of our embassies abroad.

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Marine Security Guard duty is one of a few special duty assignments available to Marines. Less than one percent of all Marines have qualified and completed this duty.  MSG duty is not easy and often dangerous.  Marines have been killed in embassies and we all know that the threats to American embassies around the globe are on the rise.  Today we pay tribute to these friends and colleagues.

Let me end by telling a story told to me by a friend who had served with Marines in Mosul, Iraq:

“I once made the mistake of referring to someone as an “Ex-Marine” and it was forcefully pointed out to me that there are no ex-Marines — once a Marine, always a Marine.  During my service in Iraq I worked with several former Marines and I was struck by the fact that the qualities of valor and bravery they had acquired in the Marine Corps had not diminished one bit after they left active duty.   One evening as we were departing the chow hall heading back to the office we came under mortar attack.  As all of us scrambled for the concrete bunkers to take cover, our RSO, a former Marine Security Guard, started running as fast as he could toward the blasts — in the opposite direction of everyone else.  I could see the plumes of smoke from the shells and heard and felt the impact of the explosions.  At the same time I saw the RSO heading straight for them.  The blasts were near our compound and our staff and he was motivated in that instant by the need to ensure that everyone was alright.

“We were not so lucky that evening. One of the mortars had hit a protective concrete wall and smashed into the entrance of the bunker.  One of our interpreters was hurt and several soldiers were severely wounded.

“In the midst of this chaos, our RSO and management officer, another former Marine, brought things back under control.  They coordinated taking care of the wounded, calmed down the staff and cordoned off the impact area.  They kept their wits about them and kept the mission moving forward.  In these two men I saw the best of what the Marines have to offer.  In that moment I understood why they were so proud to be called Marines.”

At this time, may I ask that current and former Marines rise to be recognized.

Please join me in raising your glass as we celebrate the men and women of the U.S. Marine Corps.  We celebrate not only who you are but all that you stand for.

“Semper Fidelis.”