‘Hometown diplomat,’ originally from
Sanpete, explains State Dept. role
By Suzanne Dean
Nov. 2, 2017
MANTI—When Kelly Lauritzen was growing up in Sanpete County in the 1960s and 1970s, he probably never imagined he would end up as a foreign service officer in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.
Nor could he have foreseen completing a two-year assignment in Phnom Pehn, then being sent to language school to learn Chinese in preparation for his second assignment in Guanghous, China, not far from Hong Kong.
But since, at age 52, embarking on a second career with the State Department, Lauritzen and his wife have opened the door to all kinds of exotic and unexpected assignments.
Ironically, one of those assignments was a stateside task between foreign service postings, and that’s why he visited with the Sanpete Messenger last week.
He was asked to be a “hometown diplomat” who visits schools, community newspapers and other U.S. institutions to explain what diplomats do overseas and how the State Department benefits America.
There are about 170 U.S. embassies worldwide that serve as centers for a wide variety of programs and activities.
“It’s a pretty broad mission. Every time you jump into something, you find more there,” he says.
Lauritzen was born in California, but his parents, Orson and Shirley Lauritzen, moved to Sanpete County when he was 7. They built a house near the mountain bench between Mt. Pleasant and Spring City.
He attended Mt. Pleasant Elementary, what is now Mt. Pleasant Middle School (when he attended, it was called a “junior high”) and graduated from North Sanpete High School in 1979.
After high school, he went to BYU. He was married fairly early in his college career and needed money to support his family and for education, so he enrolled in ROTC. He planned to serve the required four years of active duty and then move on to something else.
He ended up staying in the Army for 30 years and retiring as a full colonel. He spent about half of his career in Europe in jobs involving coordinating with U.S. allies there and directing military exercises on the European continent.
He worked in Germany, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland, among other countries.
During those assignments, he frequently had contact with State Department employees. By the time he retired, he had decided that getting on with the State Department would be his “dream job.”
One important mission of embassies is to help American citizens who are living or traveling overseas. “When people run into trouble, the first place they turn is the embassy,” he says.
If an American is put in jail overseas, foreign service officers visit the jail and try to make sure treatment is humane.
Officers from the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) are stationed at embassies. They try to work with the government of the host country to build and stabilize the economy, Lauritzen said.
When Lauritzen was in Cambodia, the ambassador was a foreign service professional who has served there 30 years earlier. During his earlier service, he helped set up a garment industry that followed international labor standards. Today, clothing is the largest Cambodian export. American companies are among the biggest clothing purchasers.
“We try to promote democracy overseas,” Lauritzen said. One of his assignments in Cambodia was serving as an election observer.
An embassy gets involved in law enforcement. The FBI has agents stationed at many embassies.
While Lauritzen was in Cambodia, there was a big bust of illegal African ivory that had been brought into the country. U.S. officers stationed in the embassy helped local authorities deal with the case.
A big area where U.S. law enforcement cooperates with law enforcement in the host country is in human trafficking. When pedophiles from the United States go to poor countries to try to pick up children for sexual activity, “we help local officers in picking them up and bringing them back to the United States.”
Lautizen and his wife have four children, all grown, so it’s just the two of them serving abroad. She is from Fort Collins, Colo.