Embassy reinforcement: Crisis response Marines sharpen skills in Portugal
By 1st Lt. John McCombs, Marine Corps Forces Africa
U.S. EMBASSY LISBON, PORTUGAL -- The U.S. Marines kept their weapons trained on the suspect as they closed in on him in the parking lot of the embassy. One Marine cautiously approached the man to search him for weapons while the other Marines in the unit kept their weapons up, ready to engage the intruder and protect embassy personnel.
This active shooter scenario was just one part of a training exercise conducted at U.S. Embassy Lisbon, Portugal, Feb. 8-10, 2016. It allowed Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response – Africa Marines to gain proficiency in working alongside Department of State personnel during an embassy reinforcement.
This was an opportunity for a small element of the SPMAGTF-CR-AF Marines and trainers from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service to come to Portugal and practice working with the U.S. Embassy and Portuguese officials in scenarios that simulate real-world crises by rehearsing the tasks associated with reinforcing an embassy during periods of civil unrest in other countries around the world. This exercise builds on an existing relationship that the U.S. Government and SPMAGTF-CR-AF has been developing in Portugal.
“One of the main goals of the exercise was to provide an opportunity for the SPMAGTF-CR-AF Marines to integrate very closely with our embassy personnel, in case they have to respond to any of our embassies or consulates in a crisis,” said Supervisory Special Agent Tanya Sears, regional security officer. “We would be able to work with them very closely and figure out how best to keep everybody safe and secure in whatever type of environment we might face.”
The Marines of SPMAGTF-CR-AF are outfitted and tasked to be a quick reaction force if an embassy on the continent of Africa had to be reinforced or even evacuated. That was the case in Tripoli in 2014 when Marines with SPMAGTF-CR-AF evacuated the embassy after the security situation deteriorated. This training provided an opportunity for Marines to practice conducting their mission set at an actual embassy for the first time in this rotation, and for the first time in Lisbon.
“This is a unique experience for us because it allows us to train with different Marine elements as well as host nation counterparts,” said Special Agent Daniel Arich of the Diplomatic Security Training Center “The key part is watching these Marines respond to simulated attacks that we may face worldwide. It’s critical for our development as an organization and for the Marine Corps to work together to be better prepared for these types of instances.”
The embassy in Lisbon and the professionalism of the Portuguese forces provided a unique environment for the Marines to practice their proper tactics, techniques and procedures in a controlled and safe setting where they could improve their capabilities. This joint training between the U.S. Marines of SPMAGTF-CR-AF and the Portuguese security forces improved interoperability vital to maintaining both nation’s respective strengths.
“Over the course of the last couple days we have been able to figure out exactly where we fit and where other Marines and the State Department fit,” said Cpl. Zeith Horr, squad leader with SPMAGTF-CR-AF. “I think in the future if we are to do this again the transition will be a lot smoother and we’ll be able to start the training and go.”
The goal of the training was to enable the Marines to be better prepared to protect U.S. citizens on the continent of Africa. It helped improve the ability of USMC and Portuguese forces to work together as a Crisis Response force. At the conclusion of the training U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, Robert Sherman was confident that the SPMAGTF-CR-AF Marines were ready and able to respond to whatever crisis may come their way.
“We live in a dangerous world and my primary responsibility as a United States Ambassador is the safety and security of all people at the embassy,” said Sherman. “This exercise was very important so that we could learn from each other and better prepare in the event of a real crisis and I know I sleep better at night knowing that the SPMAGTF-CR-AF has our backs.”