The U.S. Embassy is a protected place where the United States Government conducts its business in a foreign country and the actual property that it is built on is considered American soil.
People come from all over the world to the Embassy for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they come to apply for a visa’s to travel to the United States of America. Or people would come to obtain information about the United States etc. Several offices have been established to meet these needs. One is the U.S.I.S (United States information Services) and another is the U.S.AID (United States Aid for international development).
Officers of the embassy start with the Ambassador, the Deputy chief of mission (DCM), Post Security Officer, Political Officers, Economic Officer’s, The department of Defense (DOD), The consulate General, Secretaries and Phone operators, Janitors(Char force), there is the General Service Administration (G.S.A) and the logistics officers, duty drivers and the Marine Security Guards who were posted at the front door to provide an up front visible security force. The Marines are a security force that is present at the Embassy 24 hours of every day of the week, rain or shine.
As a Marine Guard at the American Embassy our job was to protect the Ambassador, the classified information and the property. We represented the United States of America and we were the icons to be observed. As we stood at attention for hours we became professionals at watching every movement of every person who stepped foot inside those gated doors. We carried a loaded firearm and occasionally fanaticized that someone would cause us to pull the trigger.
We had a translator who worked with us during the day shift to help if a visitor did not know English. Over a period of time I became somewhat friendly with the translator. He had a sense of humor, fluent in French, Arabic and English but he and was also a bit too inquisitive as he would innocently probe for information about the Embassy staff. He would ask the wrong questions and make probing accusations about the inner workings of the Embassy functions and the staff that were assigned there.
I was always good at perception and I kept a mental log of what was asked because I felt I was on to something. This guy could not be trusted no matter how much he would tell me jokes and assume his calculated questions and implications went undetected. Then one day I felt that I had a case, and I exposed him to the Marine in charge of the detachment who in turn had me report the information directly to the Post Security officer. Other Marines were brought in and were likewise questioned and came forward with similar stories. Quietly the translator was removed and assigned another less visible task in the car pool. He was very upset but they could not tell him why it was done. I was told he was actually a Spy for the Tunisian Government who reported to the Tunisian government as to who came to our Embassy from their own population as well as the political workings of our own Embassy staff.
Another incident that stood out was this college aged guy who came to the Embassy on a bright Saturday Morning. He walked slowly through the front door into our lobby. I recall he looked like death warmed over as he was dressed in dirty oily leather clothes and looked as if he came from a concentration camp where they starved the prisoners. He appeared to be humbled in his demeanor as he requested to see the Consulate General. As he began to talk I found out that he was an American who was just released from the Tunisian prison system and wanted to go home. He was one of the many unfortunate tourists who got caught every year, who just so happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the story unfolded He had helped a girl whose father worked at the Embassy to carry her heavy bags through customs check point at the Algerian/ Tunisian boarder.
Little did he know that she was using him as a human mule to carry her drugs through the check point where he was searched, retained and charge with drug smuggling. He told me of the life in the prison where every week someone was executed in the court yard.
There was only one or two prisoners who could speak English. The concrete floors were sloped to the middle of the room where you pissed and took a crap in the trough. Then you pushed your waste toward the next prisoner with some straw, who had to likewise shove it all on down the line until the last guy incarcerated had to shove it through a little hole in the wall to the outside honey wagon pulled by a mule. There were no beds just straw on the concrete. There was one window in the room which you had to be lifted up to see the executions in the court yard.
Naturally no one believed his side of the story so he was guilty. The staff at the Embassy seemed indifferent towards those who were caught drug smuggling and pretty much stayed out the punishment end of it unless bribes were possibly in line for getting someone out. What a trapped situation with no way out!!!
Another day I saw a lineup of three new aluminum caskets in the Embassy garage. After asking some questions I was told they were American Mercenaries who were killed working in the Congo and Angola wars. This was all in a day at the compound where the American flag flew proudly above the American Embassy every day, 365 days of the year. I know this for a fact because as a Young Marine on the night shift I would carry my folded flag up the back steps first thing in the morning, through a locked steel door and at 06:00 I would pause for ten seconds then walk to the flag pole and carefully raise the colors. Then I wrapped the rope tightly around the bracket at the bottom of the pole. Stepped back ten steps and saluted the flag. I learned to be proud of my country and the red white and blue as it flew so gracefully above my American Embassy. I was the Marine guard when no one was watching, who raised it and honored it with a calculated salute.
On one occasion out of the corner of my eye I could see the Soviets on their Embassy roof top watching me with binoculars. It made me proud to be an American.
When Ambassadors from different Embassies would arrive to visit our Ambassador, we always paid them the same respect as our own as they walked through those steel front doors. They would arrive at the Embassy in black limos with their national flags mounted on the bumpers, many times lead by motorcades of security forces.
On one occasion, late at night I was informed by phone after hours that Marie Shriver (who is she?), (daughter of one of the Kennedy’s) was to arrive and needed some medical attention. As I waited with all the doors locked and the embassy staff gone for the day, she arrived, I couldn’t help but note that her beauty was over whelming to me as I realized that had gotten use to the locals.
As I tried to compose myself she took over the conversation and requested a bandage for her big toe that she stubbed. As she propped up her foot on my desk she asked if I would assist her. I felt my heart beat faster and I wondered what I would have done if she needed CPR. After some small talk she thanked me and then left the compound with her driver.
I locked the Embassy doors and savored the moment for weeks. As I told my story to the other Marines I became an instant hero. Later in life Marie Shriver Married Arnold Schwarzenegger who was a world famous body builder and Governor of California.
I recall that when I had initially arrived in Tunisia I told some of the Marines that, “when these girls they were dating started to look good to me It was time for me to leave”. Marie was one who helped me realize that there really were better looking girls in the world and that somehow I had lowered my standards after a year in the desert.
Sometimes in the evening local telephone operators would call the Embassy just to chat with me. They wanted to talk to someone who knew English. One sounded pretty nice so after several calls I asked to meet with her at the open market. She obliged and we met on two occasions. She was some what shy, red hair and was French Tunisian. A short lived encounter but we had fun walking through the market place trying out her broken English.