Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte, Former Acting Assistant Secretary in the Department of State's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Mari Carmen Aponte served as Acting Assistant Secretary in the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs from May, 2016 until January, 2017. Previously, Aponte was the Ambassador of the United States to El Salvador since 2012. Her priorities in El Salvador included expanding crime prevention, growing the economy and moving the country towards democracy, sustainable development and human rights. She is the first Puerto Rican woman to hold the title of Ambassador. Born in Puerto Rico, Aponte moved to the United States to pursue a better education. After earning a BA in political science from Rosemont College, she taught in Camden, New Jersey and became aware of underrepresented educational needs of minority students. Aponte enrolled in Temple University Beasley School of Law and earned a JD in 1975. She was one of few Puerto Rican women enrolled in a U.S. accredited law program at that time and, subsequently, the first Latina lawyer in Pennsylvania. Aponte moved to Washington, D.C. in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter appointed her as a White House Fellow. She continued practicing law in D.C and cofounded one of the first minority-owned law firms. In 1984, Aponte was elected the first woman president of the Hispanic National Bar Association. She continued to hold leadership positions for the next 25 years, advocating for women and the Latino community. From 2001-2004, she was Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration. She was also on the board of directors for the National Council of La Raza and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and later provided strategic counsel for the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network, a Spanish-speaking national non-commercial television network. Aponte received the 2015 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association in recognition of her community service.
Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr.
Ambassador Harry Thomas is one of our nation’s most experienced diplomats and holds the State Department’s second-highest rank of Career Minister. Over his 30 year career, he has represented the United States abroad as Ambassador three times and served in senior positions at the State Department and the White House.
As Ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2016-18, Harry lead the U.S.’s efforts to support economic reform, democracy and American corporations seeking to do business in Zimbabwe. He oversaw EducationUSA which sends several hundred students to American universities each year and partners with non-governmental organizations whose objective is to gain academic and athletic scholarships for Zimbabweans. He was in charge of the Fulbright, Humphrey, Watson and Young African Leaders Fellowships and has responsibility for two American Corners (Libraries) including Zimbabwe’s first wireless library.
Brigadier General, U.S. Army Retired, Hector Pagan, President of Down South Consulting, LLC
Brigadier General Hector E. Pagan was born in Manhattan, New York, and was raised in Puerto Rico. He was commissioned as an infantry officer from the ROTC program at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, where he was a Distinguished Military Student and Graduate. He attended the Infantry Officers Basic Course and Ranger School in 1980, and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 51st Infantry, in Germany, as a Rifle Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer and Scout Platoon Leader. In 1983, he attended the Infantry Officers Advanced Course and remained at Fort Benning, Georgia, with the Infantry Training Group and the 29th Infantry Regiment, where he served as chief, Special Weapons Committee, operations officer, and commanded the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Bn., 29th Infantry Regiment from 1984 to1986. Brigadier General Pagan served in Panama with the 3rd Bn., 7th Special Forces (SF) Group (Airborne), 1988-1990, as an A-Detachment commander and Battalion S1. He served in Operation JUST CAUSE and deployed to El Salvador in 1989. From 1990 to 1992, he served in SF Branch, Total Army Personnel Command as a future readiness officer and captains assignments officer. He attended the Army Command and General Staff Course and then served as the executive officer, 1st Bn., 7th SF Group (Airborne). From 1994-1995, he served in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command as the chief, officer management, office of the deputy chief of staff for personnel. He returned to the 7th SF Group (Airborne) in 1995, where he served as group operations officer, executive officer and deputy commander. From 1998-2000, Brigadier General Pagan commanded the 2nd Battalion, 1st SF Group (Airborne) at Fort Lewis, Washington. After his tour with the 1st SF Group, he was assigned to the Special Operations Command South, Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, where he served as the director of operations, J3, from 2000 to 2002. Upon completion of the U.S. Army War College in 2003, Brigadier General Pagan took command of the 5th SF Group (Airborne) in Baghdad, Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom. He led the 5th SF Group (Airborne) in combat as the commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Arabian Peninsula for two combat tours in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, Brigadier General Pagan served as the special assistant to the commander of the United States Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. In 2006, he assumed duties as the deputy director of the Operations Support Group in the Center for Special Operations in the U.S. Special Operations Command. Brigadier General Pagan served as the deputy commander, U.S. Army Special Operations Command in November 2006 and in May 2007 assumed duties as deputy commander, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, NC until July, 2008.