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Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

Readiness Enabler for Operational Forces  •
Former Saigon Marines, civil servants visit MCLB

By 2nd Lt. Kyle Thomas | | April 29, 2010

Members of American Embassy Saigon Marines and Civilians toured Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany Friday.

The group of 60, comprised of former Marine security guard personnel and civilian Foreign Service officers, served at the American Embassy in Saigon at some point before its fall to the North Vietnamese Army in 1975.

The focus of the tour was to introduce an older generation to a newer one.

“My whole purpose in bringing this group here was to show them all of the updates in military equipment and to help them to add it to their own experiences,” said Robert Bishton, former consul general of the American Embassy in Saigon. “We have reunions like this every couple of years to renew old friendships that we made while we were serving at the embassy.”

The former Marines and civil servants received a guided tour of Maintenance Center Albany. During the tour, the group learned of new technologies that are currently being implemented in the Marine Corps, technologies that are driven by operations at MCLB Albany.

However, technology is not the only aspect of the Marine Corps that has changed since the Vietnam War.

The Marine Corps has also changed the way in which it makes Marines. This was the theme of a video the guests watched while attending a luncheon at the base restaurant. There, the visitors learned about the crucible and other changes to recruit training over time.

The former Marines and civil servants experienced this change on the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer. They immersed themselves in a mock combat scenario on the ISMT using various weapons including the M-16 service rifle and the M-249 light machine gun.

“Marines today have such an advantage over the older generation in their training.” Keith said. Birkhofer, former sergeant and MSG. “Training like this helps build hand and eye coordination and reflexes. Back then we didn’t have something like this to prepare us.”

Marines also performed a training demonstration on the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. The group watched Marines perform hand-to-hand techniques used to disarm opponents as well as other close combat methods.

Regardless of the changes in training methods and technology, the MSG has always set itself as an elite profession within the Marine Corps.

“Marines are always known as the few and the proud, well the Marine Corps security guard is the few and the few,” said Sgt. Maj. Scott C. Mykoo, sergeant major, MCLB Albany. “The school for MSG has one of the highest attrition rates of any school in the Marine Corps, this means that 50 percent of the staff noncommissioned officers that attend the school do not graduate. We only send the best of the best and we know that we can count on those that make it through.”

The MSG detachment was only one of many professions from the embassy. Civil servants from all walks of life also shared their experiences.

“From 1967 to 1969, I was responsible for all American civilians living in Saigon,” said Bishton. “Of course, I was there during the Tet offensive in 1968. This is when the Viet-Cong blew a hole in the wall of the embassy and tried to invade it. All of the civilians were told to stay at home that day. Of course, I still had to go to work. I had to keep the State Department informed of U.S. civilian casualties. It wasn’t a very pleasant time; however, war very rarely is.”

Bishton had served as consul general during his three-year tenure at the embassy, a senior-level civil service post within the U.S. Department of State.

Experiences such as this were common among the members of the organization and it is these experiences that serve to create a sense of camaraderie among those in attendance, Bishton said. However, regardless of their role at the embassy there was no shortage of praise for the MSG’s who protected the embassy from 1954-1975.

“The Marines are good at what they do and it is great to be associated with them,” said James Prosser, former U.S. Department of State civil servant. “We always associate with Marines, even in our retired foreign service groups all over the United States. I always find my Marine friends who are in the area and invite them to come and join us.”

Prosser, who served at the embassy from 1954 -1956, also related his experiences. Being stationed at the embassy before American involvement escalated in the region, he witnessed fire fights between the French Foreign Legion and the Viet Minh, as well as other sects near the airport at Saigon.

“Everyone was fighting everyone else. Even the different Vietnamese sects were fighting each other. It was a mess,” Prosser said.

Overall, the tour gave this small portion of American Embassy Saigon an exposure to the way the Marine Corps accomplishes the mission in today’s global environment.