WASHINGTON – New York Army National Guard Sgt. Jhon Ortiz has received the State Department's Meritorious Honor Award for outstanding performance while deployed in Iraq.
Ortiz, a Corona, N.Y. resident, was recognized Sept. 5 for working with Diplomatic Security Service, a branch of the State Department that protects U.S. officials at bases, embassies and consulates abroad.
During his nine-month deployment in 2018, Ortiz helped receive, store and transport equipment and facilitated the movement of personnel in and out of Baghdad.
"I was in charge of security, transportation, and lodging of U.S. military and government officials visiting Iraq," Ortiz said. "I handled officials ranging from congressmen and women to the highest levels of leadership in the U.S. military and NATO."
Ortiz was deployed as part of the 10th Mountain Division Mobile Command Post Operational Detachment, a National Guard element that trains to deploy with the 10th Mountain Division Headquarters for staff augmentation.
Faced with increasing hostilities by Iranian-backed militias, the Basra consulate was closed in October 2018, requiring the evacuation of all personnel and the securing of equipment.
"I was located in the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, which was the only base that was close enough and had the capability of storing, housing and transporting all of the Basra consulate's people and equipment," Ortiz said.
New York Army National Guard Col. Michael Bice, who deployed as the base commander for garrison operations at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, picked Ortiz for the mission.
"I knew that he was the one that could be counted on to get the job done. He was self-motivated, smart and well respected by the State Department," Bice explained.
Ortiz devised a system to store the massive amounts of cargo and equipment coming into Baghdad from the Basra location.
"There were more than 200 trucks coming in during the span of two or three weeks," Ortiz said, "all carrying containers that had just about half a ton of equipment in them, and all of them were being driven by local Iraqi contractors."
"Screening and security were a main concern because we did not know who among those local people was sympathetic to hostile groups. Luckily, we did not have any incidents," he said.
The movement of State Department equipment and personnel required a tremendous amount of expertise to support the State Department regional security team, Bice said.
"Ortiz and his team were able to track and account for 58 flights ... comprised of 114 vehicles and over 662,333 pounds of materials with all personnel," Bice said.
The State Department Meritorious Honor Award is not given lightly, said Phillip Smith, a member of the State Department regional security team who nominated Ortiz for the award.
"He earned it," Smith added.
"Receiving the Meritorious Honor Award was a great motivational boost and an honor. There are so just so many people who get nominated for this award every year," Ortiz said. "It reminded me that the work that people do for the United States does not go unnoticed."
Michael Evanoff, State Department assistant secretary for diplomatic security, presented Ortiz with the award and plaque that read, in part, "For exceptional devotion to duty, enthusiasm and exemplary conduct during the period of Oct. 3 to 18, due to the evacuation of Consulate Basra."
Ortiz, a Middle Eastern Studies major at Dartmouth College, expects to graduate in the fall of 2020 and pursue his master's in international relations. He is also a cadet in the Reserve Officer Training Corps and will commission as a lieutenant upon graduation.
"Listening to the stories of the other awardees reinforced my interest in working in the foreign service in the future," Ortiz said.
"It's pretty rare for someone in the armed services to receive a State Department award," said Susan Redwine, director of the Dartmouth ROTC program. Ortiz quietly sets a high bar for other cadets who have received military commissions, she said.
"When Jhon came back to finish his degree here, he didn't talk about Iraq all that much, because he is a soft-spoken guy," Redwine said, "but he does assert himself in a quiet, confident way, and we are proud of him."