Army Staff Sgt. Nikko Ortiz was working out just over a year ago when he decided to pull out his camera and make a video. He sent the finished product to a buddy who was familiar with TikTok. After watching, the friend told Ortiz he should make an account and post it.
Fast forward to today and Ortiz has amassed 2.9 million followers and developed a reputation for being one of the funniest military content creators.
“Nothing was ever planned,” he told Military Times. “I never planned to be a content creator in any way, shape or form.”
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Ortiz, who has been in the Army for eight years, was in the early stages of switching from active duty to the reserves when he first kicked the tires on TikTok. The videos, he said, gave him a sense of meaning and community, the depth of which he didn’t fully realize until he ran into a retired Marine at the VA who showed him how impactful his content was.
“This guy walks up to me, he’s like, ‘Hey, do you have Facebook?’” Ortiz said. “In my head, I’m like, ‘This dude is crazy,’ until I realized maybe someone reuploaded one of my TikToks there.”
So, he said yes, not entirely sure where the Marine was going with his query.
“He’s like, ‘I love your content, man. It really makes me laugh,’” Ortiz said. “I was able to make his day better, and make him laugh and help him connect with his family. It was a gut punch. I have purpose again, just like in the military.”
Ortiz is perhaps most famous for his takes on the six service branches and how each operates in different scenarios.
The Army is the quintessential old man, Navy a little flamboyant, Marines are hammers, Air Force is uptight, Coast Guard is jealous, and Space Force is from a different planet entirely.
“One day, I was just brushing my teeth, going about my life, and then I was eating, and I wondered, ‘How would the Marine Corps eat this?’”
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The exercise of exploring the mundane is what makes Ortiz’s content so relatable, not just for veterans and service members, but military enthusiasts and civilians — those who may not know much about branch rivalry, but still enjoy a peek into the niche.
“My favorite to do is either Navy or Coast Guard,” Ortiz joked. “They’re so freeing. The Navy is just such a character. It’s the funnest one to play out of all of them. If I had to pick one that I disliked, which will surprise people, it’s Space Force. Space Force is so ... out-of-pocket weird [that] I have to do something a normal human being wouldn’t think of doing.”
Indeed, Ortiz’s guardian character dons a tiny hand on each finger, worships a potato, and wears a tin foil hat, whereas the Navy caricature is the pinnacle of “anything goes.”
The popularity of Ortiz’s TikTok also gave rise to a bit of an entrepreneurial venture that includes a YouTube Twitch presence and a podcast, which is something he says he’s most excited about now that he has begun separating from the Army.
“I‘ve slowly started the branch out process, because I know my content touches more than just the military community, but I will never stop the military content,” he said. “It will always be my base. Everything I do, it will always have that military stamp on it.”
As a service member who created content for social media during a time when the Defense Department has encouraged increased limitations on apps like TikTok, Ortiz believes there needs to be a compromise in order to shore up recruitment and retention.
“I think there has to be a middle ground,” he said. “They banned TikTok, and that’s totally unrealistic. People literally aren’t going to join because they’re addicted to their phones now. That doesn’t make them bad soldiers. But is that an issue? Yeah, it is. But I do think people should be able to be content creators in the military.”
While he believes there should be rules regulating how service members use social media, Ortiz thinks a platform like TikTok has potential to create community and raise morale.
“You have to be able to flip that switch, which has always been a thing when you’re at work,” Ortiz said. “You need to work, but when you’re off work, go have fun, film and do whatever you want. There are a few military values ... you need to maintain, but outside of that, go live your your life.”
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.