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PaCom Commander Visits Marine Security Detachment in Jakarta

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia, April 10, 2008 – Three months into his job as detachment commander, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. James Sturla said he’s hard-pressed to find a more interesting or gratifying job than overseeing his fellow Marines who guard the U.S. Embassy here.

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Marine Corps Sgt. Gregory Rodriguez, a member of Marine Security Guard Detachment Jakarta, shares his fellow Marines’ enthusiasm about duty in Jakarta, Indonesia. Rodriguez called it a special treat to have a visit from Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, during Keating’s visit to the U.S. Embassy on April 10, 2008. Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisia Gonzales

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Sturla commands Marine Security Guard Detachment Jakarta, where eight Marines are charged with protecting embassy property and personnel while safeguarding classified material.

Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, paid the Marines a call today on his way to a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Cameron Hume.

Keating, here for visits with Indonesian government and military leaders to discuss mutual security interests and promote closer cooperation, thanked the Marines for their service and presented each his PaCom commander’s coin. “Thanks,” Keating told the Marines. “You make us proud.”

Sgt. Gregory Rodriguez, a seven-year Marine serving his first security guard posting here, called Keating’s visit a special treat, one day before his 29th birthday. “It’s like a birthday gift,” he said. “It feels good that he took time out of his busy schedule to say thanks. That means a lot.”

Duty with a Marine security guard detachment is light years apart from just about any other duty a Marine might pull, Sturla said. Instead of serving within a military unit, the Marines become part of the diplomatic community, living and working among U.S. State Department employees and their families.

“This duty is a lot different than being in the fleet,” Sturla said. “There’s a lot less stress here, especially compared to being deployed (to a combat zone). But that said, you always have to be on guard, ready to respond to an actual event at the embassy.”

All but one of the guards has deployed into combat at least once. Sturla was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade during combat near Iraq’s border with Syria in September 2004. Despite serious arm and torso injures and severe burns to his hand, he went on to serve another deployment.

Sturla and the rest of the guard detachment agree that combat experience pays off here, where they’re required to be on their toes and ready to respond in an instant. “You have to be flexible, real flexible,” said Sgt. Jesse Spears. “You have to be able to think on your feet.”

As they serve at U.S. Embassies around the world, Marine security guards recognize the trust placed in them -- a trust that sometimes comes at a huge price. Marine Sgt. Nathaniel Aliganga was killed during the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in August 1998. The Marine security guard residence there is dedicated in his memory.

Marines volunteer for the security guard program, agreeing to serve three consecutive one-year tours at different embassies. All except the detachment commander are required to certify that they’re unmarried and won’t tie the knot any time during their three-year assignment.

Sturla, who as commander serves 18 months at two different embassies, was permitted to bring his wife and two children here to Jakarta, where they live in embassy housing. “It’s pretty nice,” Sturla said. “They like it a lot.”

While the duty is considered a “B” billet, meaning a hardship tour, the Marines pulling it give it an “A” for career opportunity and personal enrichment. Security guard duty not only improves their promotion potential, but also gives them experiences beyond anything they ever expected.

When signing up for the program, they specify their choice of assignments, ranking them 1 through 12. Spears specifically requested duty in Jakarta, figuring it was “one of those countries you normally wouldn’t get to see if you weren’t posted to it.”

Spears served a year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, followed by a year in Abuja, Nigeria, before arriving here. Sgt. Carlos Melendez spent a year in Kampala, Uganda, followed by a coveted assignment in Milan, Italy. Harmon served a year each in Valletta, Malta, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“You get to travel. You get experience. This is the world’s best-kept secret,” Harmon said. “It’s a great program.”

Beyond those experiences, he called the duty a learning experience that offers lessons about how other U.S. government agencies operate and the contributions they make. “It opens a lot of doors, brings you in and gives you insight about what they actually do,” he said.

“It helps give you the big picture,” agreed Sgt. Jeff Gordon, a fellow guard. “Not only do you get to travel a lot, but you get to see how different parts of the government work.”

As they digest those insights, the Marines heartily endorsed their assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia. “There’s a lot to do here,” Sturla said. “You just can’t get bored in Jakarta.”

Contact Author

Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating

Related Sites:
U.S. Pacific Command
U.S. Embassy, Jakarta, Indonesia
State Department Background Note on Indonesia

Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, talks with Marine Corps Staff Sgt. James Sturla about wounds Sturla received in Iraq and his current duty as commander of Marine Security Guard Detachment Jakarta, during Keating’s visit to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 10, 2008. Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisia Gonzales  
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