Las Vegas, N.M. – Highly decorated retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Melvyn Montaño of Albuquerque will be the speaker for the Highlands University main campus commencement ceremony May 12.
Montaño’s distinguished military career spanned more than 45 years, culminating with being named for the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal Award. He retired in 1999 as the adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard and was the first Hispanic to achieve this National Guard rank in the continental United States.
“I will be talking with the Highlands graduates about elements of leadership, with ethics and integrity at the top of my list along with the importance of respecting the privacy and dignity of others,” Montaño said. “These graduates will be the future of our country and have the unique privilege to provide their own vision. They are accepting this responsibility much earlier than my generation did.”
The Highlands alumnus who earned his M.A. in business management in 1975, said he is humbled and honored to be speaking at commencement.
“I will also be stressing the importance of lifelong education because it’s the key to each graduate’s life and future,” Montaño said.
The Albuquerque native’s military service began in 1954 when just short of his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the New Mexico Air National Guard at Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque. He served as an enlisted airman for 16 years before completing his college education and rising through the ranks as a first lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, brigadier general, and major general.
“The biggest highlight of my military career was serving as adjutant general for the New Mexico National Guard because my home state and my Hispanic heritage came together in this position,” Montano said.
Montaño said his family’s long history of military service motivated him to want to serve his country from an early age.
“Being a military leader also gave me the opportunity to serve my New Mexico community through working with high-risk youth. We’d say leave y0ur gang and join our National Guard gang,” Montaño said.
Montaño was deployed to Vietnam from 1968-1969, earning decorations for his service such as the Vietnam Service Medal with Four Bronze Stars, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Outstanding Unit Award with a “V” for Valor. He also received awards such as The Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross With Palm.
Over the years, Montaño received numerous other decorations such as the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Legion of Merit Medal.
“During my military service I learned that it’s important to be a good example if you want to encourage future leaders,” Montaño said.
Montaño said education was highly valued in his family. His mother was a second-grade teacher and his father was a warehouseman at Kirtland Air Force Base.
“I didn’t get my college education until after I returned from Vietnam. I took night classes and it took me eight years to finish a B.S. and two master’s degrees. I wanted to earn as many degrees as I could on the G.I. Bill and wouldn’t be a Two Star general without my education,” Montaño said.
He said he was part of the first Highlands University master’s degree program taught at Kirtland Air Force Base.
“My Highlands education was excellent and included professors from Harvard among others,” said Montaño, who also earned a M.A. in public administration from the University of New Mexico in 1981 and a B.S in business administration from the University of Albuquerque in 1972.
Montaño has a long history of civic leadership and service. He is the former president for the New Mexico Hispanic Culture Preservation League in Albuquerque, former board member for the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, former chairman of the board for El Rancho de las Golodrinas in Santa Fe, and former chairman of the Catholic Foundation in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, among other positions.
“These Hispanic civic leadership roles gave me the chance to help preserve our heritage,” Montaño said.
Montaño said the biggest highlight of his life was marrying Marian, his wife of 62 years. The couple raised four daughters, Kristin, Karen, Kathy and Karla, and have two grandchildren.
The Highlands’ main campus commencement ceremony is at 2 p.m. in the John Wilson Complex. Details are online at http://www.nmhu.edu/commencement/#main