J.W. Cortés was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised by Puerto Rican parents. The Army drafted his father to serve in the Vietnam War.
Cortés earned the rank of gunnery sergeant and deployed under Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Later, he also deployed under Operation Enduring Freedom. He was a member of the 1st Force Service Support Group, Embassy Security Guard Battalion. Prior to his Iraq deployment, Cortés had deployed to Australia, Asia and East Africa. At the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, he served with and befriended 2nd Lt. Therrel “Shane” Childers, who later became the first American casualty under Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Cortés’s combat deployment in Iraq included many close encounters with death. He recalls praying regularly to be able to leave Iraq safely and pursue acting and singing. Cortés’s close encounters made him realize he had taken life for granted and that he has much to be thankful for. He served for 12 years, both on active duty and in the Reserve.
Cortés earned multiple awards for his service, including a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and a Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon. He also received Marine of the Year for his exceptional service.
After Cortés’s service, he went on to become a New York City police officer with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. While working as a police officer, Cortés pursued his acting career by studying and spending years auditioning for various roles. Through persistence and hard work, he landed a role on “Gotham” and filmed while continuing to work at Penn Station, where he would be recognized regularly. Cortés has also been a guest star on “Power,” “The Night Shift,” “The Blacklist” and “The Mysteries of Laura.” Additionally, he participated in the reality show “Stars Earn Stripes” as a military operative. Cortés has also appeared in numerous films.
In addition to a successful acting career, Cortés has been pursuing his passion for singing and was recently featured on the hit song “Homesick” by Kane Brown.
Aside from his life in entertainment, Cortés is an active philanthropist as well. He is on the board of directors of both the Detective Rafael Ramos Foundation and Got Your 6. Cortés has also helped raise awareness and fundraise for Autism Speaks, Maestro Cares, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, the Gary Sinise Foundation and Boot Campaign. Boot Campaign also chose him to be a celebrity spokesperson and hero ambassador. In 2016, he received the National Football League’s Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award. Cortés also participated in the HBO series “Habla Y Vota.”
Despite achieving success in the performing arts, Cortés said in a 2017 motivational speech he’s most proud of his military service.
“My greatest role to date has and will always be that of a United States Marine,” he said. “The Marine Corps saved my life, and I mean every word of that.”
Cortés currently resides in Jersey City with his wife, two boys and an American bulldog.
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