The U.S. Department of State has no higher priority than protecting the safety and security of U.S. citizens. During an overseas crisis, the Department may provide information on conditions in the country and where to seek help. In more severe situations, it may recommend U.S. citizens leave the immediate area, or the country. In the most unstable crises, when conditions permit, the Department may assist in the evacuation of U.S. personnel and U.S. citizens from the crisis location, sometimes in close coordination with the Department of Defense.
Over the past 35 years, the State Department conducted more than 300 evacuations of U.S. personnel and U.S. citizens from overseas crises, including most recently from Sudan. The Department of Defense (DoD), in coordination with the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, facilitated more than 20 of these operations, including in Lebanon, Grenada, Liberia, Somalia, Rwanda, Zaire, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Haiti, and Afghanistan.
To prepare for State Department’s evacuations with DoD support, the two agencies conduct joint exercises multiple times a year around the world. In April, State Department representatives from Consular Affairs, Diplomatic Security, Political-Military Affairs, Global Public Affairs, and the Foreign Service Institute’s Crisis Management Training division teamed up with over 2,200 members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to conduct a six-day training exercise in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina.
The exercise centered around a fabricated scenario at a fictional outpost, the “U.S. Consulate Agategrad.” In the scenario, Consulate Agategrad staff faced a variety of threats to the Consulate and to the U.S. citizen community in the country, including political instability, calls to violence by extremist groups, and protestors outside the Consulate gates. At each step in the exercise, as the threats escalated, the State Department and DoD worked together to determine appropriate responses and next steps.
The scenario reached its apex when U.S. Consulate staff—based on a discussion of pre-established State Department criteria—determined the situation warranted the evacuation of not only U.S. personnel, but all interested U.S. citizens from the country. On the final day of the exercise, Consulate Agategrad staff and the 26th MEU successfully evacuated more than 200 U.S. citizens, who were transported by air to offshore ships equipped to deliver them to safety.
Throughout the scenario, State Department staff worked with their U.S. military counterparts to work through various aspects of a real-world evacuation, including messaging about the crisis via traditional and social media, the identification of suitable evacuation sites, and the appropriate response to potentially violent protestors. The relationships built, and the knowledge shared, will undoubtedly extend beyond the training exercise. These kinds of exercises are absolutely critical to improving communication and strengthening the relationship between the Department of State and the U.S. Marine Corps.
These kinds of exercises are absolutely critical to improving communication and strengthening the relationship between the Department of State and the U.S. Marine Corps.Jonathan BergerForeign Policy Advisor (POLAD)
Jonathan Berger, a Foreign Service Officer currently serving as a Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) to the commander of Marine Forces Special Operations Command, played the role of the Consul General during the scenario. “Truthfully—and thankfully—a large Military Assisted Departure/Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation is rare. However, each time we engage in an exercise of this magnitude it is only going to serve our institutions and our people better — and in the end will help save lives.”
This training was facilitated by the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute in support of the Crisis Management Training division’s mandate to help prepare U.S. Government employees in the foreign affairs community to effectively respond before, during, and after crises of all types.
About the Author: Ildiko Hrubos is a Foreign Service Officer currently serving in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs. She participated in the training exercise with the 26th MEU.