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Ambassador Michael C. Polt

Remarks at the 236th Birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps

November 12, 2011


Marine Ball

Ambassador Michael  C. Polt

Good evening and welcome to our celebration of the 236th birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

A special welcome to the Chairman of the Estonian Parliament’s Defense Committee, Mr. Mati Raidma and Mrs. Raidma, and my friend and colleague, the Ambassador of the Republic of France, H.E. Mr. Frederic Billet, and Madame Billet.

I wish thank Gunnery Sergeant Elliot and Mrs. Elliott and our entire detachment of Marines for allowing us to celebrate with them today. 

Holding true to their motto "Semper Fidelis" …always faithful… Marines around the world are proudly celebrating their birthday again this year.  These will take the form of official ceremonies, both large and small, both festive and in the field, with little more than a brownie out of their field rations.

Members of America’s Diplomatic Service are deeply honored to be part of this celebration at 265 of our embassies and consulates and in military outposts such as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo.

The U.S. Marine Corps was founded on a cold November day in 1775 in a tavern in Philadelphia by an order of the Second Continental Congress, which determined that two special battalions were needed to fight during the American Revolution: one by land and one by sea.  Since winning our freedom in America’s first war, the Marines have worked tirelessly to protect it.

Ambassador Billet, last year our colleague the British Ambassador joined us here for this celebration and we agreed to let bygones be bygones in that little disagreement over 200 years ago.

Now that we are all friends and allies again, and in that same spirit, let me say thank you to France for helping us in our struggle for independence!

The U.S. Marine Corps, although the smallest military unit in our armed forces with about 240,000 men and women, has served in every American conflict since the American Revolution.  True to their adage, “any clime and place.”  They really remain the few and the proud.

But Marines do more than fight in our wars.  They are also charged with supporting our Embassies and Diplomatic Missions around the globe, from Tallinn to Tegucigalpa.

For over 60 years, since the formal establishment of the U.S. Marine Guard Program, Marines have not only risked, but also sacrificed their lives in defense of our diplomatic missions worldwide.  They have epitomized the Corps’ values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.  These soldiers in front of us tonight are of a special caliber.

It is a great comfort and reassurance for our country, for our Embassy staffs, as well as our families, to see Marines on duty.  Here in Estonia, every single day, 24/7, without fail, the Marines at Embassy Tallinn live up to the trust we place in them and the heavy responsibilities they bear.

Marines uphold all their traditions proudly, but tonight is special.  We, who have the privilege of working with them, join them in honoring their history and traditions.

As strong and historic as the relationship between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Marine Corps is, in recent years we have bonded even further as our national security goals have – once again -- placed us side-by-side in combat zones from Iraq to Afghanistan, together with staunch allies like Estonia.

I say “once again”, because “expeditionary diplomacy” may be a new hot phrase today, but it is not a new concept. 

The Marine Corps hymn mentions “the shores of Tripoli” as a reference to the historic Battle of Derne during the First Barbary War of 1805 – a conflict waged by the United States to eradicate marauding pirates in the Mediterranean.

That battle, not unlike the current insurgency being fought in Afghanistan and previously in Iraq, was a coordinated diplomatic and military effort.

A small detachment of U.S. Marines, under the coordination of then-U.S. Consul to Tunis William Eaton, secured Tripoli and returned the territory its rightful ruler. 

In modern times, in 2009 and 2010, Marines of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force have worked hand-in-hand with the State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in places like Anbar Province, Iraq, assisting Iraqis in rebuilding and restoring that region after years of devastating war.

Together, marines and diplomats developed and implemented joint projects with their Iraqi hosts to foster good governance, encourage moderation in religious and public discourse, reduce violence, restore basic services, build roads, train and equip police, and irrigate farmland.

Both organizations brought their best abilities to the table to turn one of Iraq’s most violent and volatile provinces around.

President Obama’s recent announcement of our troops’ return home from Iraq at the end of this year is the direct result of partnerships like the one between the Marine Corps and the Department of State in Anbar.

A member of my diplomatic team here in Tallinn today is a walking example of this partnership.  He worked with Marines in Iraq in 2009. 

He describes how every day, as diplomats went to meet with their Iraqi counterparts in Ramadi, Fallujah, Haditha – names long associated with the worst violence of the Iraqi insurgency – Marines put their lives on the line, and in the line of fire, to protect him and our other colleagues. 

More than 800 Marines paid the ultimate price in Anbar province in service of their country, but not one diplomat was lost under their protection.

So ever since Tripoli in 1805, we have served America together.  Without our Marines’ support, U.S. diplomats would find themselves in far fewer “places and climes.”

Former President Ronald Regan once said, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world.  (U.S.) Marines don't have that problem.”

With that, ladies and gentlemen, may I ask you to stand together with me.  

Please raise your glasses and join me in a toast to those who put their lives on the line so that we may enjoy freedom and democracy:

To all our fighting men and women, including their Estonian comrades in arms, a salute;

To the United States Marine Corps - Happy Birthday!  Semper Fi; and God bless the United States of America and the Republic of Estonia!