General says he helps soldiers

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By Don Pace

By his account, the head of the New Mexico National Guard aims to protect the welfare of his citizen soldiers, even if it risks upsetting higher-ups.

Major Gen. Kenny Montoya, adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard, speaks of his soldiers’ accomplishments at every opportunity. He said he is sometimes amazed that he was promoted to general in the first place.

As the American public is well aware, the troops who have served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are often on a short rotation schedule, many on their third, fourth or more tours of duty.

However, guardsmen serving under Montoya’s command that return from a war zone must spend the next three years at home before being redeployed — a policy that some in the Pentagon may not like, but is pretty much set in stone in Montoya’s mind.

The New Mexico Guard does not answer directly to the Pentagon, but it’s probably not a good idea for a flag officer to be on the outs with the brass in Washington.

Montoya said even soldiers who volunteer for deployment must go through the entire chain of command to present their case. He said that process could take up to a year and he alone makes the final decision.

Montoya said a would-be volunteer looking for a waiver must bring in his mother or wife and they too must sign off on whether or not the soldier returns to combat.

Montoya said he would never send a 17-year-old soldier to war and even 18-year-olds must go through a one-year mandatory training process before they are deployed.

Montoya has also put his career on the line in other ways, insisting that no soldier get preferential treatment. He recalls an incident a number of years ago when he was called into the governor’s office to justify why he was sending the sons of powerful politicians into a combat zone.

“When I walked into see Gov. (Bill) Richardson on the matter, I thought I was going in to be fired. I told the governor that by not sending the soldiers in question, I would be hurting the combat effectiveness of the entire unit. My respect for the governor soared when he backed me up and agreed with my assessment,” Montoya said.

Montoya was promoted to his present rank at a ceremony July 14 at the Rotunda of the State Capitol. Gov. Bill Richardson, commander in chief of New Mexico’s citizen soldiers, thanked the state’s congressional delegation for getting the long overdue confirmation of Montoya through the Senate. He also praised the National Guard for their performance during the past five years while under the leadership of Brigadier Gen. Montoya.

During the same ceremony, Montoya was federally recognized as a brigadier general in the regular Army. When Richardson appointed him to head the New Mexico National Guard, he assumed the title adjutant general, but his official Army designation remained colonel. At the urging of U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, the Senate approved the promotion.

Montoya said he owed it all to his soldiers.

“I am humbled by your performance. Everything I’ve asked of — every mission, every challenge you’ve completed beyond the standard. These stars I wear today will always be yours,” Montoya said.

Montoya was in Las Vegas recently to welcome home a detachment of the 720th Transportation Company from hurricane relief duties in Louisiana. The general was also making stops at community National Guard armories in other parts of the state.