‘Walking in the light’
The lights shown brilliantly on Lieutenant Melanie Ortiz as she walked across the stage and stood in front of Commissioner Barry C. Swanson, territorial commander. In the presence of 2,000 people, he proudly offered to her the Commissioner’s Award of achievement. One of the highlights of Commissioning Weekend was the moment Ortiz graciously accepted the award and received a standing ovation.
Swanson said the award took into account Ortiz’s academic and leadership skills, and overall ability to “embrace the cadet experience.”
As a celebrated member of the Messengers of Light session, that day at the Hershey Lodge was in stark contrast to the dark life Ortiz lived just four years before.
Ortiz, the daughter of Major Teresita Pacheo, the corps officer in Ponce, P.R., grew up in The Salvation Army. But about a decade ago, she walked away from her family and a God–directed life.
“My mom prayed me through it all,” Ortiz says. “For about 10 years, I was apart from the Lord and from my family. I was a rebel. I was a bitter and a selfish person.”
Although at the time Ortiz’s mother had been appointed to the College for Officer Training (CFOT) in Suffern. N.Y., Ortiz went back to Puerto Rico. She eventually returned to the mainland to attend school in Chicago. She got involved in alcohol and substance abuse and admittedly had a “filthy mouth.”
“My mom always talked to me about the Lord,” Ortiz recalls. “She instructed me to walk in the light.
“One night when I was alone and living in spiritual darkness, I remembered that the Lord had promised something much better for me. So I went back to church, gave my heart to the Lord again, and here I am.”
Ortiz also heard and responded to the call to officership. As a cadet, she served at CFOT as a chaplain, organizing music groups, and being a leader. She became a light to other cadets.
“[During these two years of training] I was just myself,” she says. “I wanted to encourage others, I wanted to do my best academically and also grow spiritually. Today, I am truly surprised. I never expected anything like this [award]. I was just doing the Lord’s work.”
Ortiz, who entered officer training from the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Guayama, P.R., was thrilled when she received her first appointment as the assistant officer at the San Juan Central Corps, where she served her winter assignment.
“I’m excited. I’m surprised. I’m humbled. I’m blessed,” she said after the Appointment Service. “I have a lot of emotions going on at this time.”
Lieutenant Kendacy Barnes, the session’s representative speaker at the service, said it was no coincidence this session was called “Messengers of Light.”
“Because for such a time as this, the Lord has raised up an army of soldiers, a generation of soldiers, who are not afraid to storm the forts of darkness with His marvelous light.”