A Marine Reserve Lt. Col. had just finished a day of training at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. and was returning to his hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. In the lobby, he noticed a young girl who he later described as acting a bit odd.

And as a law enforcement official in his civilian job, he also noted the girl was wearing blue and white clothing, along with number “13” tattoos on her arms. He knew those were indicators that she might be involved with the international criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. 

“The way she was walking back and forth, in and out, it almost seemed like she was hoping to be noticed by someone,” the Marine said, according to a Marine Corps press release. The Marine, the release said, is a Lt. Col. in the Reserves, but his name was not released because of an active legal investigation around the events.

The Marine’s commanding officer said that the man’s unit train on identifying gang and prostitution-related behavior.

“We constantly educate our personnel on how to spot and respond to suspected human trafficking situations. I never stop reminding Marines that human trafficking often manifests as prostitution and if Marines are against it, the criminals cannot win,” said Col. John D. Cowart, commanding officer, Marine Corps Advisor Company A.

Though he was scheduled to take his Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test early the next morning, the Marine ultimately decided to keep investigating.

Within a few hours, he’d discovered and helped take down a large-scale human trafficking ring.

The reservist was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal this week for his quick thinking and actions. The Marine, a Lt. Col. assigned to Marine Advisor Company A, Force Headquarters Groups, was not named, as his actions led to what is still an ongoing investigation into wider criminal activity.

Task & Purpose attempted to confirm the details of the investigation and arrest cited in the Marine press release and award citation but an official with the Alexandria Police Department said they could not confirm any arrests or police activity and do not release arrest records to any party not directly involved in a case. A series of entries in the Alexandria Police Department’s online crime log from 4:22 a.m., May 6 roughly match the time and charges noted in the Marine Corps release, and are listed as having occurred on N. Ripley St., a short road in Alexandria with several condominium and apartment complexes. But Virginia police records are released only through an official records request, which can take 15 days or longer to process, according to the state’s records website.

In the press release, the Marine’s commander lauded the officer’s initiative.

“His judgment and initiative in this situation are perfect examples of how Marines should feel about human trafficking,” Marine Advisor Company A commander Col. John Cowart said. “He demonstrated that Marine leaders are part of the solution to the world’s problems. Marines are always on duty, observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing; and this Marine exemplified that.”

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When the girl from the lobby was picked up in a car, the Marine decided to follow, tailing the car until it arrived at a condominium in Alexandria. He then contacted other law enforcement to let them know of his suspicions, and waited for them to arrive. After conferring with a clerk at the front desk of the building, the Marine and other law enforcement officers proceeded to the residence where the girl and the car’s driver had been seen entering to perform a wellness check. 

Inside, they discovered a group of young girls, along with suspected drugs and drug paraphernalia. 

“Given his keen observations, commitment to justice, and dedication to service, Lt. Col. [Redacted] actions directly resulted in the release of entrapped females under the control of transnational criminal organized criminal elements,” reads the awards citation

Having helped take down the criminal enterprise, the Marine returned to his hotel room around 1:30 a.m. As a Marine Corps press release stated, he was still up the next morning for his PFT.

He scored 278, the Marines said — not bad for a drill weekend. 

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