“Angels Along The Way”: Mentorship, Teamwork, And Growth Along Life’s Journey

Michael Montelongo


Michael Montelongo’s parents met when his father, a Mexican-American, was an Army bandsman stationed in New York City. His Puerto Rican mother came to live with her Aunt, and the two met in a club where his father was playing. They married, moved into public housing on the lower east side, and had two boys and a girl; Michael is the eldest. He grew up in a very diverse community of Hispanic, Jewish, Italian, and Chinese families. His parents, neither of whom completed high school, understood the value of education and made sure their children received every opportunity. Education was the path to success, and Michael knew it was expected that he study hard. Michael grew up playing baseball and stickball, and learned guitar as well. He played in a band in high school and occasionally performed in gigs with his father. Music was very important in his family and Michael continued to play and sing throughout his life. He attended the prestigious Xavier High School, a Jesuit institution in New York City. Two nuns he knew as a child helped him get a scholarship, and music was a critical element in his development at that institution, which also deepened his notion of service to others. While at Xavier, he participated in JROTC and eventually was appointed the Regimental commander. That sparked an interest in applying to West Point and for an ROTC scholarship. He intended to attend Fordham, but an admissions officer at West Point reached out when he noticed that Michael was two weeks late on finalizing his application. He sent it in, and received an appointment to the Military Academy. On R-Day, reporting to the Man in the Red Sash was a complete shock, but the night ended with the comforting notes of “Taps” being played outside his window. He did well at the Academy and during his Cow year, he completed summer training in Venezuela, Airborne School, and CTLT (Cadet Troop Leader Training) at Ft. Bliss with an Air Defense unit. At West Point, he played in the Hop Band, and sang and played with the Glee Club and Catholic Choir. While he was a Cadet, women were first admitted to the Academy, and he discusses the historic nature of that change. He branched Air Defense Artillery, primarily because of his positive experiences during CTLT, and he was off to Ft. Bliss after Ranger School and the Basic Course. As a Platoon Leader, he learned a lot from his Platoon Sergeant, SFC Williams, who viewed his mission as teaching his Lieutenant. In 1979, he returned to West Point as an Admissions Officer in Project Outreach, aimed at increasing diversity recruiting. Three weeks out of each month were spent “on the road” reaching out to high school students and encouraging them to apply. He was then assigned to Korea in what he calls his “worst Army experience,” with a battalion commander who did not like West Pointers. He followed that tour with an assignment to Ft. Buchanan, Puerto Rico, where he served as an Operations Officer and Company Commander. His company had a wide variety of Soldiers who were primarily there for compassionate reassignment, and keeping them trained was a challenge, but with the help of a terrific First Sergeant they achieved success. At pivotal points during his career, Iris and Herman Bulls, USMA 78, were two of Michael’s “angels” who provided wonderful career advice. During a time when he was considering getting out of the Army, he was offered an opportunity to return to West Point and teach either in the Department of Social Sciences or the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. After a lengthy discussion with Herman Bulls, he chose to earn an MBA at Harvard and return to USMA to teach in Sosh. He enjoyed his three years teaching at the Academy, and noted improvement in Cadet leader development. Returning to the force after his teaching assignment, he was stationed at Ft. Bliss in the 6th Air Defense Artillery, where he served as a Battalion Operations Officer and Executive Officer, and then a Brigade Operations Officer. While there, he received the opportunity to move to Washington D.C. and become a speechwriter for General Gordon Sullivan. After gaining experience working at the Pentagon and with Congress, he was at a crossroads. He had been selected to command a Battalion, but wanted to begin the next phase of his life. After a lengthy discussion with Herman Bulls, he left the Army and entered the corporate world in 1997. In 2001, he received a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to serve as the 19th Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller under President George W. Bush. Serving at the highest level of the military, he was able to shape the Air Force of the future and help that branch function more efficiently. He was sworn in 30 days before September 11, 2001, and experienced that tragedy from ground zero at the Pentagon. Now, having achieved success in the military, in business, and in the government, he views his mission as helping to expand young people’s opportunities and help keep the American Dream alive. In this interview, he offers his thoughts on the importance of service to the nation, and expresses his appreciation for West Point and in the Army enabling him to serve at all levels.


conflicts Cold War
topics GWOT Global War on Terror War on Terror Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie Music Air Force Diversity JROTC
interviewer David Siry
date 16 September 2022


name Michael Montelongo
institution USMA
graduation year 1977
service Air Defense
unit B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 55th Air Defense Artillery; Admissions Office, USMA; 38th Air Defense Artillery; Headquarters Combined Field Army; The Company, Ft. Buchanan; Department of Social Sciences; 3rd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery; 6th Air Defens
specialty Department of Social Sciences, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller, Acting Secretary of the Air Force
service dates 1977 1997