The Marine Security Guard Augmentation Unit is on track to execute a full load of deployments for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
And as the unit matures, other elements of the navy begin to pay more attention to its work.
“We are on track to execute approximately 70 missions this year, which will bring us back to our pre-COVID operational tempo levels,” Colonel Kelly Frushour, commanding officer of the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, told the Marine Corps Times in an interview.
Frushour, a career public affairs officer, became the first woman to lead the Marine Corps embassy security group when she assumed command in June.
Pandemic travel restrictions and host nation limitations had significantly reduced the high deployment tempo typical of the Marine Security Guard Augmentation Unit.
The unit, created in 2013 following the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, exists to bolster the embassy’s security in the event of a threat or unrest.
But 13-Marine teams also regularly deploy to embassies ahead of VIP visits and to conduct proactive security validation assessments. In a typical year, teams deploy almost constantly to reinforce the 183 maritime security detachments at embassies in 148 countries.
“The average downtime between MSAU missions is about seven and a half days,” Frushour said.
However, out of a peak of 92 missions in 2017, Maritime Security Guard Augmentation Unit teams only performed 22 in 2020 as COVID-19 swept the world.
In 2021, Frushour said, the Marine Security Guard Augmentation Unit had 36 deployments. The unit has already surpassed this number in 2022.
To date, Maritime Security Guard Augmentation Unit teams have deployed nearly 500 times since the unit’s inception, with larger contingents deploying to support embassy evacuations or to reinforce security in places where there are threats of violence.
In 2016, a contingent of 40 Marines traveled to Juba, South Sudan, as the embassy evacuated non-essential staff amid threats of civil war.
Marine Security Guard Augmentation Unit Marines, who differ from Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams (FAST) in that they are considered diplomatic assets and respond directly to State Department needs, receive more training than regular observers of the Marine Security Guard, which provided the ability to stay busy during the deployment crisis.
Marine Security Guard Augmentation Unit-assigned Marines receive an additional seven weeks of training in marksmanship, medical skills, communication and tactics, as well as a two-week collective training cycle at the Foreign Security Training Center in Blackstone, in Virginia, which includes the Department of State’s High-Risk Environment Firearms Course and Enhanced Room Cleaning.
They also have the option of taking seven optional Advanced Individual Skills courses on subjects such as Foreign Weapons Instruction, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Evasion, or SERE, and Conduct Against Threat. .
As the unit approaches its tenth anniversary, the Marine Security Guard Augmentation Unit is becoming a more well-known and established capability within the Marine Corps―and this is leading to better collaboration with other units that have been less familiar with what it offers in the past.
In particular, Frushour said, she sees leaders of deployed Marine Expeditionary Units paying more attention to when Marine Security Guard Augmentation Unit teams are dispatched to their area.
“If MSAU is sent somewhere, that can be an indicator that things may not be going well in that part of the world, and [a MEU commander] can put people on alert: “Hey, it’s happening, we might have to go do something to help,” Frushour said. “So more and more units are starting to use MSAU deployments as an information requirement to prepare for what they might be asked to do.”
The Maritime Security Guard Enhancement Unit and the broader Embassy Security Group also provided more integrated training with a range of units ranging from Maritime Expeditionary Operations Training Groups to MEUs and personnel from the diplomatic security and foreign affairs.
“Given recent events with Kabul and Kyiv, it is increasingly essential to strengthen and repeat our inter-agency interoperability,” Frushour said. “While our basic training and readiness focuses on the MSG mission which allows them to stand ‘Post One’ and all other mission specific positions while responding to emergencies and threats, our headquarters has coordinated valuable engagements with the interagency and joint force in training, mission rehearsal exercises and deployment certifications.
While normal operations have largely resumed for all maritime security guards, there are still a few countries and diplomatic locations, primarily in the Pacific, that do not allow area commanders to visit deployed maritime security detachments. Typically, detachments receive multiple visits per year, giving Marines the opportunity to voice concerns and gain direct mentorship.
A regional commander, Frushour said, had magnets made and distributed to his Marines containing a QR code with his contact details and a promise that he would respond to any inquiries within 24 hours.
“I think it was very well received there,” she said. “So there’s been some creativity in making sure the Marines know that, even though we’re not physically there, you are always in our thoughts on a daily basis…our sole purpose in life is to make sure that are ready to carry out this mission that we have entrusted to them.