The 2019 Foreign Service National of the Year award recipients attend an event at the DACOR Bacon House with Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Carol Z. Perez (center), Nov. 13. Photo by Heidi Howland
The 2019 Foreign Service National of the Year award recipients attend an event at the DACOR Bacon House with Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Carol Z. Perez (center), Nov. 13. Photo by Heidi Howland

By Amanda J. Richard

There is no single superlative that can be used to characterize the immense contributions made by the 2019 Foreign Service National (FSN) award winners. While these seven individuals hail from different parts of the world and work in different sections of the Department, their overwhelming dedication to their respective Missions is what brings them together as they were honored and recognized for their significant work. Not only do the winners possess the knowledge and skills to succeed, their resilience, innovation, engagement, and bravery pushes them into a category all their own.

From navigating the difficult environment surrounding an embassy closing and emergency departure to inspiring positive change within their home countries, these seven individuals truly represent the best of the best. While their stories are filled with humble appreciation towards their colleagues and Missions, their pride in their work shines brightly from within. FSNs are truly invaluable members of the Department of State’s workforce, and the 2019 award winners are a vital aspect to enhancing the Department’s mission worldwide. 

Amanda J. Richard is the multimedia editor of State Magazine. 

Vanessa Velazquez | Global FSN of the Year |
WHA | Embassy Caracas

A protocol assistant at Embassy Caracas, Velazquez was chosen as the global Department of State FSN of the year for her “resilience, dedication, and service to Embassy Caracas that enabled the embassy to suspend operations without incident and afterward maintaining relationships with the de facto regime and diplomatic corps to lay the foundation of a Protective Power Agreement providing support for American citizens in Venezuela.” 

Although Velazquez was originally hired as a protocol assistant, she “freely took on additional responsibilities traditionally reserved for American diplomatic officers” in Embassy Caracas. She “remained at the embassy with the last diplomats on their final night prior to their evacuation to the U.S. to ensure they had the appropriate flight clearance to depart.” After the embassy closed, Velazquez acted as a “[U.S.] representative on the ground to communicate on our behalf” engaging repeatedly with Swiss diplomatic representation to construct a Protecting Power Agreement that would allow the U.S. to provide “support to our diplomats’ household effects and [the] American citizens in Venezuela.” She laid the foundation for the agreement and did so “at her own risk without legal protection.” Velazquez has shown the utmost “dedication to the U.S. government’s mission of restoring democracy to Venezuela and protection of U.S. citizens and diplomats during an unusual and volatile situation.” 

Renee-Carine Lartey | Director General’s Award for Excellence in Human Resources | AF |
U.S. Mission to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe
A human resources assistant for the U.S. Mission to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe, Lartey received the Director General’s Award for Excellence in Human Resources. She was chosen for her “sustained excellent performance and contribution in improving the Human Resources Office at an overseas post.” 

Lartey “took the leadership role of preparing the HR section for the OIG [inspection],” a period during which there was no human resource officer on staff due to the government shutdown. She “spearheaded a recent 6.5 percent salary increase for [Locally Employed] LE staff,” serves as a contracting officer representative for posts’ medical insurance contract acting as the point person for LE staff, developed a one-year-out retirement program for potential retirees at post, and continues to “play a critical role by managing the HR section and ensuring that work proceeds in a timely manner.”

Songmeng Chea | FSN of the Year | EAP |
Embassy Phnom Penh

A criminal fraud investigator at Embassy Phnom Penh, Chea received the award for his “substantial contributions in furthering the Department’s strategic goals in Cambodia and those specific to the assistant regional security officer Investigator Program.” 

Chea is commended for “ensuring the integrity of the visa process, increas[ing] the capacity of law enforcement partners, and improv[ing] relationships with host nation police.” In addition, his “innovation, creativity, and quick-thinking has been exceptional and directly responsible for the capture and return of 14 U.S. fugitives from justice,” in turn, “improving the U.S. relationship with Cambodian law enforcement, helping to build their investigative capacity and understanding of the rule of law.” Chea has “earned the confidence of the embassy’s Consular Section and has proven his value time and again by providing outstanding customer service to cases involving U.S. citizens.” 

When asked what inspired him to work with the U.S. Department of State in his home country as an FSN, Chea said, “It’s the latitude that comes with the job—the opportunity to partner up with U.S. law enforcement entities to include the U.S. Marshals, the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], and HSI [Homeland Security Investigations], and the same time, liaise with Cambodia’s top policing agencies as the embassy’s interlocutor to fight transnational crimes.” 

Julius O. Norberts | FSN of the Year |
AF | Embassy Nairobi

A security investigator at Embassy Nairobi, Norberts received the award for his “outstanding performance leading security operations that protected 2,000 employees and their family members, and enabled U.S. Mission Kenya diplomatic, economic, humanitarian, and security engagement to continue countrywide despite the prevailing threat of crime and terrorism.” 

In one of the Department’s highest-threat, highest-risk posts, “his leadership and ability to plan and execute complex security operations that support the Mission’s people and priorities is the foundation of U.S. government diplomatic, economic, humanitarian, and security engagement in Kenya and East Africa.” 

Kimberley A. Wise | FSN of the Year |
EUR | Embassy Madrid

An American citizen services supervisor at Embassy Madrid, Wise received the award “in recognition of [her] outstanding achievements in support of the safety and security of Americans in Spain and in the United States.” 

Wise spent more than a year trying to bring justice to a serial sex abuser in Spain who assaulted approximately 40 American citizens over several years. Because of Wise’s efforts, “the victims have been given a chance at justice and [the U.S. Embassy in Spain] has identified new legal and judicial flexibilities that could benefit [the U.S.] in future cases.” She has also “collaborated with Spanish Foreign Affairs and Justice officials to extradite several high-profile former officials of foreign governments wanted in the United States on corruption, drug trafficking, and organized crime charges, and assisted with the first extradition of a terrorist suspect to the United States under the current administration.” 

Tamara X. Qumsieh | FSN of the Year |
NEA | Embassy Jerusalem

A regional political advisor to the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC), Qumsieh received the award for her “efforts [which] have been critical to furthering the United States Security Coordinator’s mission and Department of State mission priorities.” 

Qumsieh’s support has “vastly improved security cooperation and Palestinian authority security capabilities resulting in a decrease in violence and a significant decrease in casualties.” She “coordinated and secured [more than] 150 engagements with local, regional, and international key interlocutors to facilitate the U.S. Security Coordinator’s [USSC] engagement strategy and further the USSC security cooperation mission including meetings with high-level government officials to include heads of state.” She is “always ready and willing to take on necessary additional responsibilities and volunteered to become a contracting officer representative for the Language Assistance contract.” She “now manages the 20 personnel supporting all USSC mission efforts in West Bank.” She is a “key and indispensable [team] member.”

Shaufa A. Saeed | FSN of the Year |
SCA | Embassy Colombo 

A political and economic specialist at Embassy Colombo, Saeed received the award for her “outstanding contributions to the United States government’s efforts to strengthen the U.S.-Maldives bilateral relationship.” 

In the last year, Saeed’s “aggressive political and economic reporting tempo, and peerless support to almost a dozen high-level visits has helped capitalize on a new Maldivian administration.” As one of the very few Dhivehi speakers in the U.S. government, Saeed is able to “quickly summarize speeches, press conferences, policy documents, and social media” giving senior leadership an invaluable insight into the Maldives’ political environment. Her “exemplary day-to-day diplomacy, trip coordinator, and reporting” allows the U.S. and the Maldives to “capitalize on this dynamic new phase of the bilateral relationship.” 

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