2017 Ouagadougou Marine Corps Birthday Ball Remarks

Mr. le Président de L’Assemblée Nationale

Mr. le Ministre d’État pour la Sécurité

Mr. le Général de Brigade Chef des Forces Armées

Honored Guests and family members

Above all Dear Marines led by Detachment Commander Gunnery Sgt Brent Espinoza and his partner in support of all our Marines, LaToya Belle.

What an honor to celebrate with you the 242nd Birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

The program and the table decorations this evening put into context Marines around the world.   It is appropriate to celebrate tonight — a day that marks the 100th year anniversary of entry of United States into WWI where U.S. Marines distinguished themselves in battles such as Belleau Wood where they rightly earned the name “Devils Dogs”.

Let me add a few points about our Marines here in Ouagadougou, a thought on the Special Bond between the Department of State and the United States Marine Corps and then conclude with my personal interactions with Marines.

Each of these Marines who volunteered for this duty is treasured by our community. I have a deep sense of pride in their professional accomplishments and in their contributions to making our community stronger and safer. In addition to their military reputations, these Marines make our community frankly more fun. From supporting orphanages, to sports events, community movie nights, and Halloween Haunted Houses, our Marines go the extra mile in addition to serving 24/7 as the sentinels for our Embassy.

The special bond between the United States Marine Corps and the Department of State begins at the beginning with Marines from the Corps accompanying our U.S. diplomats to France in 1778.

From then until now, you will find Marines and Diplomats side by side who have volunteered their service to our nation in some of the most difficult places in the world.

This exceptional collaboration was recognized by Secretary Tillerson in his message, which in part reads:

“From our embassies and consulates to the front lines, the courage and valor it takes to serve and fight for our freedom is embodied in every Marine’s promise to support and defend the Constitution of the United States with true faith and allegiance. It is this promise that unites us in a bond unique to this great nation.

We continue to face many challenges as we work together to protect our people both abroad and at home, but we know the Marines are always there to ensure America will succeed. For everything you do, we thank you.” End Quote

Let me conclude with my own experiences with members of the United States Marine Corps. I have had the pleasure of serving with Marines throughout more than 25 years as a U.S. diplomat.

Just prior to coming here, I served as Chargé in Mali during which time we were confronted with a series of terrorist attacks. In one, assailants attacked a restaurant with grenades and AK47s. Our Marines and their locally engaged staff driver used their armored vehicle to rescue multiple people from that attack site. Months later, during the attack on the Radisson Blu hotel, our Marines got word within seconds of the launch of that attack. They served as a central node of communication and reaction to that attack. They helped ensure that our armed response of joint U.S. military and U.S. Diplomatic Service Officers team had up-to-date information to rescue more than 100 people from the hotel.

After that attack our Marines in Bamako trained many members of U.S. and Malian staff in self-defense that gave them the confidence and courage to continue their important work. During our final last exercise held in the courtyard of the Embassy, at just about this time of night, the pop pop pop of AK 47 rounds erupted while I and 20 plus others were in the middle of the drill. Our Gunny immediately ensured we moved quickly to cover.  I was hunkering down between two containers with our FSNI investigator and later borrowed some body armor to move back into the Embassy. That night our Marine Security Guard team helped ensure that we could move dozens of our team members to safety. Those are some of my heartfelt experiences with members of the United States Marine Corps.

A final note directly to our Marines here. To our host nationals, every day you offer an example of pride in the uniform, professionalism and the appropriate role of military support for civilian leadership. To our American Staff, every day you stand watch enabling us to advance our critically important mission.

Always ready. Standing 24/7 as sentinels. Always Faithful.