Special to the Observer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Don Montoya is known as Mr. Cameraman to his friends assigned around the world in the operational element of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. This month will be his last working for the Army since 1973.
Montoya has been a public affairs specialist working for SMDC here since 2000. Prior to that, he worked where he started his career at White Sands Missile Range.
He is a 40-year careerist hanging up his communication tools of the trade after working in only two organizations over the span of that time. Both organizations provide national security capabilities in space and missile defense.
“I started with White Sands Public Affairs Office back in the summer of 1974,” wrote Montoya in an email interview. “I was a young co-operative education student from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M. The deal was I went to work for Uncle Sam for six months and then school six months. This continued until 1980 when I signed on permanently with White Sands. Took a little longer to complete college, but ended up owing little to none for the cost of an education.”
Montoya can’t remember his starting GS grade level.
“It has been so long ago, but I think GS-3 is in the ball park,” he wrote. “I remember in January of 1980 when I officially came on board after I finished the intern program it was at a GS-5 salary and then quickly moved to a GS-7.”
Over those years, Montoya was able to help tell the Army’s story through video, photographs and newspaper articles.
“I have been fortunate in my federal service career starting at the birthplace of America’s Space and Missile Activity in White Sands and continuing to have one foot in space by following with service here in SMDC.
“I have met a number of historical figures both famous and some not so well known throughout the years. I’ll never forget watching my first missile launch from 1,000 yards away behind a dirt bunker at White Sands. It was an ‘Honest John’ surface-to-surface missile. Many more opportunities came — some in the dead of night as sub-orbital payloads were launched high above the desert to learn more about the universe from surplus Minuteman I second stage missiles.”
After 25 years at White Sands, Montoya moved from his home state to start working in what was then U.S. Army Space Command near Peterson Air Force Base. Just after 9/11, the command moved to Building 3 on Peterson and, over the next few years, transitioned into a merge with SMDC, its higher headquarters.
“In this new century I’ve been fortunate to talk to our own Army astronauts as well as the young Soldiers who are bringing space-based capabilities to the warfighter every day.”
Over these last years, Montoya could mostly be found working around the Soldiers assigned to the 1st Space Brigade. He has photographed and written stories about the Soldiers working in most of the sites around that provide early missile warning, space support and satellite communications.
After all these years, Montoya has his plans ready for retirement.
“I’ve always wanted to take an extended sabbatical — saw that in several movies growing up and thought to myself, ‘Wow, I need to try that some day!’ Now I can finally take it.”