December 3, 2022

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DSS and FSOs bring irreplaceable knowledge to interagency non-combatant evacuation training – United States Department of State

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By Assistant Regional Security Officer Austin Fong, U.S. Embassy Hanoi, Vietnam

From political unrest to full-on military invasions, there is no shortage of threats to diplomatic operations around the globe. During times of crisis, Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) special agents play a key role in collaborating with interagency partners, garnering military assisted embassy reinforcement, advising the ambassador on how to provide a safe environment for continued diplomatic engagement, and, in the worst-case scenario, coordinating for the evacuation of U.S. government personnel, diplomatic facilities, and American citizens.

If political unrest, conflict, or natural disaster threatens East Asian and Pacific (EAP) diplomatic operations, the U.S. Marine Corps’ III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) would likely be the first to respond and would play a major role in supporting embassies, specifically the regional security offices, to bolster defenses and, if necessary, evacuate personnel. The III MEF, stationed in Okinawa, Japan, is the only MEF that permanently remains overseas, creating an enduring presence in Japan. Because of its placement, it acts as an immediate response force for the Pacific region.

Marine Expeditionary Forces often invite interagency partners, including DSS special agents, to participate in non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO) exercises. Because III MEF is stationed in Okinawa, it is difficult for non-Department of Defense (DOD) volunteers to support their NEO exercises. However, for the first time, U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officers hailing from U.S. Embassy Bangkok, American Institute in Taiwan, U.S. Embassy Hanoi, and U.S. Consulate Fukuoka participated in a NEO exercise. Together, they created a simulated country team with individuals training in the roles of ambassador and section chiefs for consular affairs, management, public affairs, USAID, and the regional security office.

Once the team was in place, the III MEF created an evolving multi-day exercise that simulated a country becoming increasingly unstable due to violent unrest. The exercise led to an embassy drawdown requiring embassy reinforcement, reaction to riots and attacks on the embassy compound, improvised explosive device threats, high level meetings on the amphibious assault ship U.S.S. Tripoli with transport provided by MV-22 Ospreys, establishment of a non-combatant processing site, and the evacuation of the mock embassy and fleeing American citizens.

The DSS special agent participating in the training served as the senior regional security officer. Throughout the seven-day training, the special agent advised the ambassador and country team on the entire spectrum of security matters in an evolving threat environment. He led emergency action committee meetings, created operational plans to bolster the safety of American diplomats in the field, addressed destruction of sensitive equipment, and facilitated embassy reinforcement with DOD elements. In addition to developing safe evacuation procedures, the special agent closely supported the ambassador on the high-level security issues of evolving U.S. government activities in country.

These trainings are great opportunities to not only implement a DSS special agent’s knowledge in traditional and high-threat overseas operations, but to be a part of the interagency cross-pollination process that keeps diplomatic personnel safe around the world. Volunteering for NEO certification trainings provides DSS special agents exposure to strategic-type conversations at the ambassadorial level, execution of capabilities integration between the regional security office and DOD, the critical work consular officers do to evacuate Americans, and so much more.

More from: By Assistant Regional Security Officer Austin Fong, U.S. Embassy Hanoi, Vietnam

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