‘Heroes’ initiative honors local staff

Badye and Hella Ladhari comfort each other outside of Embassy Tunis in the aftermath of the attack, September 2012. Photo by Lucia Piazza
Badye and Hella Ladhari comfort each other outside of Embassy Tunis in the aftermath of the attack, September 2012. Photo by Lucia Piazza

By Ruben Harutunian

An angry group of protesters assembled outside of Embassy Tunis, Sept. 14, 2012. Some of the protesters were violent—climbing over the embassy’s perimeter wall, burning embassy-owned motor pool vehicles, and attempting to set fire to the U.S. flag.

In this environment, Badye Ladhari, a locally employed staff member at Embassy Tunis, established and maintained contact with the relevant government of Tunisia security elements, escorted Embassy Tunis staff to the chancery for safety, and risked his own security to save the U.S. flag from being burned by the angry mob. In the aftermath of the attack, Badye’s wife, Hella Ladhari, was the first and only locally employed staff member to be allowed back to the chancery to liaise with the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to help arrange a special evacuation flight, and to process hundreds of departure and curtailment orders to send American staff and their families to safety.

The Ladharis, a husband-and-wife team with a combined 58 years of service to the U.S. government and Embassy Tunis, exemplify the heroism, selfless service, and extraordinary contributions of locally employed staff who provide invaluable support every day to advance American diplomacy worldwide. In honor of their efforts, they have been chosen as the first locally employed staff members to be recognized as part of the Department of State’s #HeroesofUSDiplomacy project. Inaugurated in 2019, the initiative aims to showcase heroes from the Department’s past and present to increase knowledge of a shared history, contribute to esprit de corps, and increase public awareness of the importance of U.S. diplomacy.

The Ladharis were honored during a virtual event, Nov. 18. Opening remarks were provided by Acting Director of the Foreign Service Institute Ambassador Julieta Valls Noyes, Acting Assistant Director of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Toddy J. Brown, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood. Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Management Carol Z. Perez then moderated the conversation with the honorees.

In his closing remarks, Badye Ladhari summed up the warm and gracious sentiments echoed throughout the event, “Being nominated for the Heroes of Diplomacy [initiative] as the first LE staff worldwide is the highest award that we’ll ever receive…It has been a privilege and honor serving very proudly the American Embassy in Tunis.” 

A video of the event can be seen here

Ruben Harutunian is a senior advisor at the Foreign Service Institute.

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