Heroism Awards to Three Diplomatic Security Agents
Presentation of U.S. Department of State Heroism Awards to Three Diplomatic Security Agents
Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
December 20, 2004
(10:02 a.m. EST)
Good morning. Thank you, Frank, for your kind introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, Special Agents, Friends, colleagues and family members, I'm delighted to have a few minutes to spend with your family today, which is also our family, Frank.
To be a diplomat these days, I believe you have to be an optimist. In a sense, our job is to look at the world, a place full of violence and disease and poverty, and see a future of peace, of good health and prosperity. Given that we all have to live in the present, it can be hard work, sometimes, to be an optimist, and harder still to come up with the ideas and the strategies that can move us toward that better future. Indeed, it takes tremendous courage to get this kind of work done. So as you walk down these halls, I can assure you that you stand in the company of heroes.
Well, there are heroes, and then there are heroes. I suspect no part of this institution spends more time dealing with that gap between the world as we want it to be and the world as it is than Diplomatic Security. Last February, for Special Agents Kyliavas, Belmonti, and Richardson, that meant going to Haiti. Now, I know it's been an eventful year, but if you think back to last Christmas, you may remember that Haiti was in flames; her cities exploding with rage as President Aristide sat in his palace doing little to stop the country's slide into anarchy, and much to spur it on.
By February, the situation had so deteriorated that we made the decision to evacuate our people. The three men we honor today were part of a team who carried out that order. Now, you have to understand the context for today's award. The entire team went into a dangerous situation -- one that was life-threatening on a daily basis. In effect, they were all heroes for just doing their jobs. But these three special agents even went beyond that remarkable job description and acted with extraordinary courage in extreme circumstances.
Of course, these individuals have long cultivated the habits of heroism. Raymond still serves in the Army National Guard; Christopher Belmonti was a police officer before he came here to the Department of State; and Alston Richardson was an Army helicopter pilot. Now since joining the Foreign Service, they have deployed many times to the front lines of diplomacy -- from East Timor, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, to Afghanistan and to Iraq.
Indeed, Special Agent Kyliavas returned from his latest assignment to Baghdad just last week. I suspect he finds it hard to believe that his deployment to Haiti less than a year ago was his first for the Department of State. On that mission, he was helping to evacuate 125 United Nations staffers from their compound in Port-au-Prince. And they ran into barriers of burning tires, rubble, and ruined cars. At one of these makeshift checkpoints, a group of at least 20 armed thugs had pulled a man from his vehicle and stood surrounding him. Agent Kyliavas jumped out of the relative comfort of an armored car and confronted the mob who fled in the face of his resolve, if not the gun he had leveled at them.
Agent Belmonti's unit was on the way from the Ambassador's residence to a safe house, when they came across the eerie sight of an Embassy truck full of bullet holes. Investigating the scene, he found a woman on the ground with a gunshot wound to the head, and her hands tied behind her back. As gunfire erupted on all sides, Special Agent Belmonti freed the woman and saved her life at direct risk to his own.
In another part of the city, Agent Richardson was helping to protect the new President of Haiti as they moved this brave man to a safer part of the city. As they did that, the team came under heavy automatic weapons fire. With no hope of escape, this very small detail was preparing to fight their way out of the fusillade when Special Agent Richardson put himself in the direct line of fire to better assess the situation. He determined that the gunfire was not directed at the President, and helped guide the team to safety through sustained hostile fire.
So we come together to recognize the selfless courage of these three Special Agents. At a fitting time in this season of peace and grace, we can all be thankful that this nation is so well served.
Gentlemen, thank you for your extraordinary service, and all you do to help make this a better world.
Released on December 20, 2004