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NEWS | May 25, 2021

Navy Reserve Sailor Supports NCIS in Colombia

By Lt. Cmdr. Derek Jennings, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Chief Mass Communication Specialist Scott Wichmann, Navy Reserve Forces Command Public Affairs

Jacksonville, Fla. — When Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and Department of Defense (DoD) Force Protection Detachment (FPD) Bogota, Colombia requested mission essential support for a complex project requiring a Reserve Sailor with Spanish speaking ability, Lt. Roberto Lopez, assigned to Reserve NCIS Unit 1274, answered the call. 

During his assignment in Colombia, the Tampa, Florida native facilitated training, coordinated collaboration meetings with host nation military and civilian officials, and performed threat assessment consulting and inter-agency work with the FPD at Embassy of the United States of America in  Bogotá. 

Sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the FPD program initially resulted from the findings of the USS Cole Commission Report, which identified an immediate need for permanent DoD counterintelligence support to in-transit forces overseas. The FPD’s primary mission is to detect and warn of threats to DoD personnel (military, civilian and dependents) and resources in-transit at overseas locations.  

According to his leadership, Lopez’s language skills and operational experience added immediate value to the FPD/NCIS partnership, meeting a steadily increasing demand signal for Reserve support.  

“This has been another great opportunity to leverage our Sailors’ language skills and familiarity with the region and culture as a force multiplier for both the NCIS Southeast Field Office and the DoD,” said Cmdr. Michael Schaeber, NCIS 1274 commanding officer. “We want to see more of this, and we're working with our sister units and the NCIS Office of Military Support to make this kind of support the norm under a new, Reserve Intelligence Employment Plan (RIEP).” 

The initial Reserve requirement specified experience providing intelligence support and region-specific expertise for both the Colombian and the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) area of responsibility (AOR). This included familiarity with counter-terrorism, counter-drug and paramilitary operation mission sets. Lopez fit the bill on all counts. 

“I recently completed a mission to Honduras,” said Lopez. “I’d never been to Colombia, but I’m familiar with the problems in the SOUTHCOM AOR, so I was a good fit and it was a great opportunity to give support to a worthwhile mission.”  

Lopez said the training he conducted will help to increase both the value and visibility of Reserve Sailors to NCIS, FPDs, and SOUTHCOM. 

“The Agents in Bogotá are always thrilled to get support from Spanish-speaking Reservists, whether  supplementing their intelligence analysis or facilitating additional events that they otherwise wouldn't have the manpower for,” he said. 

Lopez praised the teamwork and support he received from FPD Bogotá  Special Agent in Charge Federico “Fico” Lopez, Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) Special Agent Eric Chavarria and NCIS Special Agent Luis Orozco, who worked tirelessly to make his Reserve support mission possible. 

“The relationship between FPD Bogota and NCIS 1274 that we've established is making a real difference,” said Lopez. “This is especially meaningful during COVID-19.”  

According to Schaeber, Lopez’s mission will have a lasting effect far beyond 2021. Lopez was able to establish a process for ongoing collaboration between FPD Colombia and NCIS 1274, including offering additional operational support during drill weekends. 

“Whenever we see we're making an impact like this on U.S. national interests and the interests of partner nations, we want to ensure it continues,” said Schaeber. “Lt. Lopez has ensured that NCIS Reserve support services will be in high demand, even after his projected rotation date. He's made a lasting impact.” 

“I’m really proud to have been a part of the mission,” said Lopez. “The best feeling in the world was just before I left — I was talking with Special Agent Chavarria and thanking him for the opportunity. He said to me, ‘Hey man, when are you coming back?’”