Assistant secretary challenges youth

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Michael Briggs
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
The senior Hispanic official in the Air Force talked to high school students about opportunities and their future during an Oct. 10 to 11 Hispanic Heritage Month visit to San Antonio.

Michael Montelongo, assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management and comptroller, talked with about 400 students during his visit at two high schools.

He is the principal adviser to the secretary of the Air Force, chief of staff and other senior Air Force officials for budgetary and fiscal matters. With a budget of more than $80 billion, he serves as the Air Force's chief financial officer.

In his discussions with the 14- to 18-year-olds, the former Army officer and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point urged the teens to develop goals, seek out role models and understand the choices they have in life.

Montelongo told a group of about 50 Air Force Junior ROTC cadets at one high school he had no idea what he wanted to do in life when he was their age. He said he was impressed when many cadets in the group were able to tell him their career desires when asked.

"I'm really amazed and really admire you for knowing what you want to be," he said. "I'm pleased to hear that, because it's important to have a goal -- something to shoot for, something to work toward -- because without a goal it's like you're at sea without any direction. You're kind of just drifting around."

He said goals are closely related to role models, because role models prove it is possible to achieve goals.

"I suspect that most of you, if not all, have somebody you look up to," he said. "That's what a role model is: somebody who inspires you because of what they do, what they say and how they live their lives. Somehow they touch you, somehow they touch your heart (and) somehow they touch your soul. They provide you an example of what you would like to be."

Goals and role models alone do not lead to success, the assistant secretary said. Along the way, it is important for young people to make choices that lead them to their goals. He provided the basic economic principle of supply and demand as an example of how societies make choices and tied that thought to the choices the students will face as they mature.

"You can't have everything," he said. "For example, if you choose to be a lawyer, you can't be a doctor or anything else because you're choosing to go that path. When you do make a choice, you're not only making a decision to do something, you're also making a choice not to do other things. That's something I think even some adults don't understand."

He challenged the students to get well-rounded educations to help make their choices later in life easier. That was a key factor in his early upbringing that led to the accomplishments he has realized as an adult.

"I grew up in a neighborhood that is not unlike some of the neighborhoods you live in today," Montelongo said. "My parents were Hispanic, and we grew up in the lower east side of New York City, which was like a barrio. It was a very ethnic neighborhood with a lot or Puerto Rican-Americans, African-Americans, Italian-Americans, (and) Chinatown was very close to where we lived. So, it was a very ethnic neighborhood. I was probably growing up with some of the same challenges you face."

He said he was fortunate that his parents set very high standards and pushed him to excel in his elementary and secondary education. That meant he took a lot of English, math, science and history classes.

"They pushed me and, because of that, I had pretty good preparation," he said. "By the time I started to apply to colleges, I wasn't limited to two or three colleges, I was qualified for a lot of colleges. That was a nice feeling, being qualified for a lot of things so I could pick and choose where I wanted to go."

He told the students to examine the choices they have before them as they continue their education and encouraged them to take the courses that give them more options in the future.

"You have the choice here in high school to take some of the hard subjects that sometimes are not very popular," Montelongo said. "I know it's not easy to do, but in going around the room and hearing some of the things you would like to be, taking the maths, Englishes and sciences prepares you to have more choices available to you when you get into college. You are then going to have even more choices available to you when you finally decide what your career is going to be." (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)