Military Officers and Diplomatic Security Forge Tighter Bonds
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Greg Poland (right) with Diplomatic Security's Deputy Planning Chief J. Scott Mooneyham (left) at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. October 29, 2014
(U.S. Department of State photo)
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Greg Poland has a new job. He is an interpreter.
“There’s an old line about the Americans and the British as two peoples separated by a common language,” he said. “For a long time, the same could be said about the State Department and the Defense Department. We’re trying to change that.”
Poland is one of three members of the U.S. military currently on a temporary assignment within the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS).
“I’m an interpreter between Diplomatic Security and the Marine Corps,” Poland told DS Public Affairs in a recent interview. “If we make the right connections in advance, we don’t have to trade business cards on the battlefield.”
Poland, 46, and Army Major Austin Maples, 33, are in one-year fellowship programs designed to foster closer collaboration between the State Department and the Pentagon at a time when the military is working more closely with DS agents protecting diplomatic installations around the globe.
The pair is currently joined at DS’s High Threat Programs (HTP) Directorate by Army Major Tavi Brunson, 38, the first military detailee to work directly within HTP’s ranks.
Brunson has been with HTP, which is responsible for the protection of diplomatic facilities in some of the world’s most dangerous places, since the summer of 2013. He expects to remain there for up to three years.
“It’s been a pretty steep learning curve” shifting from the Defense Department to the State Department, Brunson noted.
But “I consider it a blessing to work in a directorate where our whole job is to help with the defense of Americans abroad. The fact that HTP was created out of the ashes of Benghazi, that gives it a little bit more of a special meaning.”
Maples called the professionalism within HTP “amazing.”
“I’ve been very impressed,” he stressed. “I’ll be able to bring back to the Army a much better understanding of how different agencies work.”
HTP Operations Planning Staff Division Chief Special Agent Lance Bailey is overseeing the work of all three men during their time at DS. Reviewing his unit’s role in providing security for diplomatic installations, Bailey stressed how vital closer cooperation with the military is in the wake of the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
“Just about everything we do overseas now involves the Department of Defense,” he said. “Post-Benghazi, the expectation is that Defense will be proactively involved in the protection of our embassies. The paradigm has changed.”
Poland, Maples and Brunson are “giving us something that DS has never had,” Bailey noted.
“They strengthen our ability to plan and coordinate. Greg can speak to the Marine Corps as a DS representative and a Marine. Austin and Tavi can do the same with the Army.”
Bailey highlighted the fact that Brunson played an indispensable role in the September 2014 reopening of the U.S. embassy in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.
“He has a decade and a half of logistics experience in expeditionary environments, and was able to effectively apply that experience” in the case of Bangui, Bailey said.
Among other things, Brunson also developed an after-action review for the September 2013 attack on U.S. Consulate Herat, Afghanistan, and spent 60 days serving as an assistant regional security officer (ARSO) at U.S. Embassy Niamey, Niger.
“I got to truly learn what a regional security officer does, and that’s really helped me here” at DS headquarters, Brunson noted. The experience “links it all together.”
For his part, Maples has traveled to Nigeria and Afghanistan during his DS fellowship. Poland has been to South Africa, Kenya, and Niger.
While Poland, Maples, and Brunson all tout the value of their DS experience, they also acknowledge that the cultural differences between the State Department and the military can be a daunting hurdle to overcome.
Military missions are generally “defined up front, whereas in the diplomatic world your mission is a little more squishy,” Poland said.
Left to right, Diplomatic Security's Operations Planning Staff Division Chief Lance Bailey, Deputy Division Chief J. Scott Mooneyham, and Army Major Austin Maples during a high-threat exercise. October 9, 2014
(U.S. Department of State photo)
Maples noted that in the Defense Department, “there is a very structured, action-oriented process. It’s very results-oriented.”
“I don’t see a lot of that at State,” he said. “There’s a lot of negotiation instead. Of course I understand that need for negotiation. But coming from the military, it can be frustrating.”
That said, all three men noted that HTP’s Operations Planning Staff (OPS) recently created a more formalized Deliberate Planning Process (DPP) to ensure the faster, more effective execution of decisions within DS’s security operations.
“Our office here in OPS not only teaches the DPP, but employs it daily to create the caliber of strategic level plans to effectively deal with problems around the globe,” Brunson said.
“The promulgation of the DPP last year was an extremely significant event in terms of moving DS forward to manage and aggressively solve crises.”
For all three men, working at DS headquarters in the Washington, D.C. area has been a welcome change of scenery. Prior to his arrival at DS, Maples was stationed with the Army’s Second Cavalry Regiment in Grafenwoeher, Germany. Brunson had just spent a year in Montgomery, Alabama, at Maxwell Air Force Base’s Air Command and Staff College.
For his part, Poland most recently served as commander of the First Tank Battalion at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in southern California’s Mojave Desert.
“My last office had sand blowing through the windows. Life at DS is a major improvement,” Poland joked.
“I’m having a great time,” Maples said. “The DS special agents are consummate professionals.”
“I love this opportunity,” Brunson added. “DS is an amazing organization. It’s hard to believe I had never even heard of it until I came here. We need to get the word out.”
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Gregory Poland (left), Army Major Austin Maples, and Army Major Tavi Brunson (right)
at Diplomatic Security's headquarters in Rosslyn, Virginia. December 16, 2014 (U.S. State Department photo)