Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Marcia S. Bernicat (center) stands with Foreign Service National of the year award winners, from left: Alexander Lozenko, Arun Pinto, Isa Adamu, Sergio Lopez, Malika Oshurbekova, and Xu Wang, Dec. 8, 2022. Photo by Mark Stewart

By Mahvish S. Khan

The 2022 Foreign Service National (FSN) of the Year reception was held in Washington, Dec. 8, 2022. Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Marcia S. Bernicat was joined by representatives from all regional bureaus to welcome award recipients from around the globe. The Bureau of Global Talent Management’s Office of Overseas Employment organized the event in the beautiful main reception hall of DACOR Bacon House, which was decked out for the holiday season. 

Bernicat’s remarks at the event underscored the vital importance of the locally employed workforce to the Department of State’s mission. 

“You are the institutional memory, the backbone, and the abiding presence at our embassies, consulates, and missions abroad. You have an extraordinary impact on the Foreign Service community, and on the lives of U.S. citizens, living both abroad and within U.S. borders,” she said. 

Whether supporting evacuations in a war zone and working to maintain safety, empowering a community through public diplomacy, or helping to reunite family members while protecting U.S. borders, this year’s winners included the best of the best. Their dedication, bravery, and innovation enabled the Department to overcome obstacles and accomplish its mission to “protect and promote U.S. security, prosperity, and democratic values.”

Alexander Lozenko
Global FSN of the Year EUR | Embassy Kyiv

A senior Foreign Service national investigator, Lozenko was chosen for sustained exceptional performance to Embassy Kyiv, supporting personnel and American objectives leading up to and during Russia’s war on Ukraine. Through his leadership, initiative, and bravery, he played an instrumental role in maintaining the safety and security of all U.S. mission staff during this crisis. 

Since before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Lozenko’s work with the Regional Security Office in Kyiv has contributed to the embassy’s multi-layered evacuation plans and overall goals. 

“Working alongside [the Regional Security Office], U.S. military, host nation, and neighboring country security and law enforcement contracts, [Lozenko] coordinated and participated in senior level meetings that determined the best evacuation routes, border crossings, and transportation methods,” said former Deputy Regional Security Officer Paul Comforti, who nominated Lozenko for this award.
And his work continued even after all American direct hires had departed Kyiv. 

“After all U.S. personnel had evacuated Ukraine and Russia re-invaded on Feb. 24, [Lozenko] continued to serve the Mission on his own initiative, patrolling U.S. properties in Kyiv, providing regular updates on the situation in-country, as well as the status of our staff scattered throughout Ukraine,” said Comforti.

Lozenko assisted nearly 400 staff and their families to move westwards, away from the Russian assault, and toward safety. He worked with host government officials and railway executives as well as other businesses to provide support to the Mission and its personnel. 

Watch Lozenko’s conversation with State Magazine here. 

Malika Oshurbekova
FSN of the Year Runner-Up | SCA | Embassy Dushanbe

A cultural affairs assistant (American Spaces adviser), Oshurbekova was chosen for building an international coalition to integrate Afghan refugees into their Tajik community and empowering them through public diplomacy programs.

American Spaces Tajikistan Director Chaz Martin wrote in her nomination of Oshurbekova, that she “built an innovative strategy to deliver American Space educational programs to more than 3,000 Afghan refugees on-site at Afghan community centers.” 

Her work included building relationships with local officials as well as Afghan community leaders, and also securing more than $200,000 from an American non-profit organization to renovate community centers and equip them with computers and internet access. The influence of Oshurbekova’s efforts extended beyond Tajikistan’s borders, enabling Embassy Dushanbe to reach Afghans in Afghanistan through virtual programs. 

“Malika’s work reset the narrative about U.S. assistance to the Afghan people,” said Martin, noting how discussion of U.S. support for Afghan refugees flipped from the time of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan to December 2022. “Malika’s success in leveraging American Spaces to engage refugees through satellite programming was novel, innovative, and improved the lives and prospects of thousands of Afghans.”

Watch Oshurbekova’s conversation with State Magazine here. 

Isa Adamu
FSN of the Year finalist | AF | Embassy Yaounde

A Regional Security Office security coordinator, Adamu was chosen in recognition of his sustained superior performance as Embassy Yaounde’s security coordinator and for his efforts to support a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, foster relationships, and build teams that increase the mission security, and shepherd the embassy community in times of need.

Adamu’s supervisors were impressed by his “unparalleled” customer service support. Supervisory Special Agent Michael Alimenti wrote in his nomination of Adamu, that “he is always just a phone call away for any section or employee in need.” Alimenti praised Adamu’s evenhanded treatment of all colleagues, and his efforts to maintain esprit de corps. 

“Isa commands an impressive amount of influence over these partners built largely on his masterful use of strong interpersonal skills, honesty, team building, and mutual respect,” noted Alimenti. 

He has not only used sport as a driving force to create a close-knit community, but to help colleagues as well. 

“When one of our staff members died unexpectedly, Isa acted as the main intermediary between post and family, visiting them multiple times a week,” Alimenti added. “When one of our guard’s residences burnt down, Isad was there to take collections and management and administrative issues to provide financial assistance for the guard and his family’s needs. When one of our gendarme bodyguards was involved in a motor vehicle accident, Isa was there at the hospital.”

Watch Adamu’s conversation with State Magazine here. 

Sergio Lopez
FSN of the Year finalist | WHA | ConGen Ciudad Juarez

An immigrant visa supervisor, Lopez was chosen for his innovative leadership in promoting efficient consular services for immigrants in Mexico and around the world, reuniting thousands of families and protecting U.S. borders.

Lopez supervises the largest immigrant visa processing post in the world. When the COVID-19 pandemic led to a backlog of more than 100,000 applicants seeking services, Lopez responded to these operational challenges by developing “a culture of innovation within his 70-member team, encouraging new thinking, and continuous improvement,” said Immigrant Visa Chief Lareina Ockerman.

Lopez’s innovation and leadership at the immigrant visa unit meant that Ciudad Juarez exceeded pre-pandemic immigrant visa volumes by 30% in 2022. 

Lopez has served at Embassy Baghdad, and in Doha facilitating emergency processing of Afghans evacuating from Kabul. He also created and moderates a Department of State network for locally employed staff working on immigration issues. 

Watch Lopez’s conversation with State Magazine here. 

Arun Pinto
FSN of the Year finalist | NEA | Embassy Kuwait

A local guard force shift supervisor, Pinto was chosen for his performance beyond the call of duty, exhibiting superior leadership and courage in crisis and taking exceptional initiative to promote welfare and morale at Embassy Kuwait.

After a grave incident at post, Pinto not only led his team in the midst of a crisis, but he also went with a group of guards to the police station to provide statements. He was there with his team for 10 hours. 

“[H]is composure provided confidence to the team,” said Brian Cassels, assistant regional security officer in Kuwait, who nominated Pinto for this award. He noted Pinto’s dedication to the embassy throughout the pandemic as well. 

“When the embassy’s contracted groundskeepers and cleaners could not come to work, Arun took the lead with a number of guards to maintain the embassy compound,” said Cassels.

And once vaccines became available, Pinto coordinated with the embassy’s health unit to vaccinate the entire guard force.

“Arun leads by example,” said Cassels. “I have heard him say multiple times that the embassy is our home and we should be one family supporting each other.”

Watch Pinto’s conversation with State Magazine here. 

Xu Wang
FSN of the Year finalist | EAP | Embassy Beijing

A criminal fraud investigator, Wang was chosen for her pivotal role in facilitating a memorandum of understanding that was critical to ensuring the safety and security of Team USA during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games despite a hostile bilateral relationship and diplomatic boycott by the United States.

China required a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for American security personnel to provide Olympic security support to U.S. athletes during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. At the time of the Olympic games diplomatic relations were tense, and it was not clear if an MOU would be signed in time. Wang’s understanding of local bureaucracy, and experience with years of negotiations were key in securing this MOU. 

Olympic Security Coordinator Joshua Bauer, who nominated Wang for this award, was impressed by her determination under pressure. 

“Throughout many hours of intense negotiation, [Wang]’s quiet but steady demeanor hid steely resolve,” noted Bauer. 

Watch Wang’s conversation with State Magazine here. 

Bassem Hamed
Director General’s Award for Excellence in Human Resources (LE Staff) |
Embassy Kuwait (formerly Embassy Cairo)

A supervisory human resources specialist, Hamed was recognized for the impact of his Arabic language, culturally targeted EEO-training program, which extended beyond Embassy Cairo and became a model for best practices worldwide. His presentations used colloquial examples that helped his audience understand the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In addition, his commitment to taking care of people led to significant improvements in health and life insurance benefits and access to digital information for locally employed staff across the mission. 

Hamed led an effort to confront a sensitive issue, and changed the way locally employed (LE) staff understood Department of State policy and publications. Along with his team, Hamed adapted official materials about harassment and equal employment opportunity (EEO) policies, focusing on colloquial examples, and conducted dozens of socially distanced presentations in Arabic for LE staff. The changes Hamed and his team brought into focus had direct impacts at post, as staff witnessed the Department’s EEO policies put into action to combat bullying and harassment. 

“Bassem’s impact on the Mission’s EEO training program gained worldwide recognition from Deputy Secretary [of State for Management and Resources Brian] McKeon for the initiative and development in launching an Arabic-language, culturally targeted EEO training program that will be used as a model and best practice world-wide,” said Senior Human Resources Officer Karem Ortuzar, who nominated Hamed for this award. 

Aside from these changes, Hamed also negotiated new insurance policies that would cut costs for LE staff, while also increasing benefits. 

“Bassem’s initiative went far beyond his call of duty,” Ortuzar noted. 

Additionally, Hamed initiated a project to create touch screens that would allow LE staff who did not yet have access to OpenNet to access human resources policies and advisories, request meetings, view job announcements, view health insurance benefits, and much more.

 “Bassem is more than Embassy Cairo’s Sr. human resources specialist—he’s a trusted counselor and confidant who is universally respected,” said Ortuzar.

Watch Hamed’s conversation with State Magazine here. 

Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Marcia S. Bernicat addresses a crowd including Foreign Service National of the Year award winners, their families, representatives from the Locally Employed Staff Advisory Council, and other guests in the DACOR Bacon House, Dec. 8, 2022. Photo by Luis Jimenez
Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Marcia S. Bernicat addresses a crowd including Foreign Service National of the Year award winners, their families, representatives from the Locally Employed Staff Advisory Council, and other guests in the DACOR Bacon House, Dec. 8, 2022. Photo by Luis Jimenez
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