By Emily Drooby
As a newly ordained priest, Father Edwin Ortiz spends his days serving God. But he used to also serve his country: he spent three years in the Navy as a hospital corpsman.
He was deployed to Japan.
“I had always had that desire of being in the military. I went ahead and gave it a shot,” said Fr. Ortiz. “You’re walking up to the ship and it’s huge. It’s huge.”
Fr. Ortiz is part of the changing landscape of the U.S. military, which is becoming more diverse each year.
Hispanics in particular are the fastest growing minority population. The most recent statistics show that six percent of U.S. military veterans are Latino, and that number is expected to double by 2024.
“Being in the military you become part of this big family who’s going to challenge you. But they’re going to challenge you, not to demean you,” he explained. “They’re going to challenge you to help you grow, to help you discover the skills and talents that you actually do have. To trust in yourself and to trust in God.”
Fr. Ortiz encourages other people in the Latino community to join the military, but one of his biggest challenges while deployed was finding time to practice his faith.
“It really showed me what my life would be like without God,” he said. And it was a life he didn’t like.
From there, Father Ortiz decided to re-enter the seminary. He was ordained in June, and now serves at Saint Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst alongside another veteran.
Deacon Anthony Mammoliti spent over 30 years in the Army. For him and Fr. Ortiz, there’s a lot of similarities when it comes to serving God and country.
“We swap stories and we talk about our time in the military, and we talk about our time in the military and we share that bond,” he said.
“We are called to be selfless servants, we are called to give our lives to something greater than ourselves,” he added. “That desire to serve, that really came while working those humanitarian projects with the Marines and really just seeing the difference that you make.”
Deacon Mammoliti and Fr. Ortiz might be done serving their country, but they will never be done serving God.