Ambassador’s Remarks at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, November 14, 2015

Good evening and welcome to the American Embassy Marine Security Guard detachment’s celebration of the 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

A special welcome to Minister Abrashi, Minister Collaku, General Rama, and BG Boyles.

I want to thank Staff Sergeant Guillermo and our entire team of Marines for allowing us to celebrate with them today.

Before moving on to the remainder of this evening’s events, I think it is important that we spend a moment reflecting on the horrible terrorist attack yesterday evening in Paris, in which more than 125 people died.  President Obama said the attack was “not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”

France was the young United States’ first ally.  Without French support my country would almost certainly not have won its independence in 1783.  During our Revolutionary War, thousands of French troops fought alongside American forces on land, and many thousands more French sailors risked and lost their lives in naval battles on the Atlantic.

The most prominent Frenchman to fight for our independence was General Marquis de Lafayette, a friend and colleague of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many other of my country’s founding fathers.  In order to recognize his contribution to our independence, the square immediately in front of the White House was named in honor of de Lafayette in 1824, a name it still bears today.

As with any friends, the relationship between France and the United States has had its ups and its downs.  But when it really counted, we were always together, just as we were during the American Revolution.  The United States stood with France during World War I.  It stood with France during World War II.  And it stands with France today in the fight against terror, and for continued promotion of the values represented in the French motto of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Please stand for a moment as we play “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, in honor of the victims of last night’s horrific attack.

Thank you.  Please be seated.

I have attended the Marine Corps Birthday Ball every year I have been abroad since joining the Foreign Service nearly 33 years ago.  I think I have a special affinity with the Marines, since I grew up near the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California.  Some of you may not know that there are only two places in the world where Marines join the corps and begin to learn the Marines’ core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment: San Diego, and Parris Island, SC.  I am curious which of our Marines completed basic training in San Diego?  Which at Parris Island?

Well, comparing American cities often leads to arguments, and I’m smart enough not to start a fight with a bunch of Marines in the room, so I will try to stick to indisputable objective facts:  the weather’s usually better in San Diego.  But South Carolina certainly has us beat if the competition turns to mosquitoes and sand fleas.

As Marines around the world are proudly celebrating their birthday again this year, in official ceremonies, large and small, festive and in the field, America’s diplomats are deeply honored to be part of this celebration at each of our embassies and consulates and in other military outposts abroad.

Now, in most places outside the world of diplomacy, our Marines celebrate their birthday largely amongst themselves.

But as is true in so many other ways, the Birthday Ball in Kosovo is just a little bit different.

Take a look around the room.  I don’t know about you, but at most of the Marine Balls I have attended, the Marines of the Detachment may have been outnumbered by diplomats but they have not been so noticeably outnumbered by members of America’s other military branches, to say nothing of the representatives of the militaries of other countries.

But as with those celebrations, the feeling here is the same. We are one team.  One team, with one mission.  To support Kosovo’s future.  It’s not the easiest mission.  Some days it looks like we are making more progress on this than on others.

Like us, you may be frustrated by  eggs and teargas being thrown in Parliament.  But if you look back to Kosovo’s independence, or over even the last five years, the progress the country has made, and the role we have played in that progress, are undeniable.  At our embassy alone, we have gone in that time to a place not considered safe for families to one brimming with smiling children.  That’s a big accomplishment in just a few years.  You all helped Kosovo accomplish that.  And I ask you to continue to play that role, because there is much more to do.

And we know that it takes all of us. It will take the people of Kosovo.  It will take every diplomat posted to this country.  Every member of every military service with KFOR.  It will take all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

Founded on a cold November day in 1775 in a tavern in Philadelphia by an order of the Second Continental Congress, the United States Marine Corps helped us win our freedom in America’s first war.  They have since have worked tirelessly to protect it.  The smallest military unit in our armed forces, the Marines have served in every American conflict.  They really remain the few and the proud.

But for nearly 70 years, Marines have done more than fight in our wars.  Since the establishment of the Marine Security Guard program in 1948, the State Department and the Marines have forged one of the strongest partnerships in the history of U.S. civilian-military relationships.  The Marines who protect our embassies and Diplomatic Missions around the globe are a symbol of American values of integrity, courage, loyalty and commitment to every person who enters the Mission.  They 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 and they are specially selected for this assignment.  These men and women we celebrate with tonight are of a special caliber.

The work we do as diplomats takes us more and more to dangerous places, as we know increasingly too well.  But I can tell you that we are in many more places and with relatively more security thanks to the service of the nearly 2,500 of these brave men and women who serve in 150 of our Missions abroad.  I can tell you I personally take great comfort, as do our Embassy staff and families, when I see our Marines on duty.  Here in Kosovo, every single day, 24/7, without fail, the Marines at Embassy Pristina live up to the trust we place in them and the heavy responsibilities they bear.

And so it is a personal honor and privilege for me to be able to celebrate this day with them.

Secretary Kerry shares that feeling of privilege at the special relationship we diplomats have forged with the Marine Corps.  Please allow me to share his birthday greeting with you:

On behalf of the Department of State and all our employees
serving overseas and at home, I wish the United States
Marine Corps congratulations on your 240th birthday.

The Department and the Corps have a special, historic
relationship.  U.S. Marines have protected our embassies
and consulates since 1948, but our common effort to
promote peace and security around the world goes back much
further.  Your dedication to duty and achieving the
mission gives us all the confidence to perform our work,
knowing you are vigilantly protecting our security.  We
are extremely grateful for all that you do and your
willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice, if necessary,
to protect our great nation.  Marines represent the very
best of what America stands for, and America thanks you –
not only on your birthday, but every day.

This past year I had the honor of re-opening our embassy
in Havana, Cuba.  As I watched the Marines who lowered the
flag in 1961 pass it on to the Marines now serving in
Havana to be raised again over our embassy, I observed the
notion of “once a Marine always a Marine” and the values
passed down through the generations.

From our embassies and consulates to the front lines of our war zones, the
courage and valor it takes to serve and fight for freedom
is embodied by every Marine’s promise to support and
defend the Constitution of the United States with true
faith and allegiance.  It is this promise that unites us
in a bond unique to our great nation.

We continue to face many challenges as we work together to
protect our people both abroad and at home, but we know
the Marines are always there to ensure that America will
succeed.  For everything you do, we thank you.
Happy Birthday Marines and Semper Fidelis!


John F. Kerry

With that, ladies and gentlemen, may I ask you to 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, a salute;

And tonight especially, to the United States Marine Corps, our Ambassadors in Blue – Happy Birthday!  Semper Fidelis!