There aren’t many Americans who can say they have jumped out of airplanes to fight for America’s freedom. Not only that, but to have served in the Army for almost 30 years, fought in combat as a Ranger and went from being a private to retiring as a full-bird Colonel. A true hero, Col. Juan Armando Montes was born to be a military man and destined to command hundreds of troops.
Born in Cuba on October 27, 1936, Juan grew up with a hardworking father and loving mother. His father, Juan Sr., worked in many lines of business while getting his education, such as moving storage, owning a shark fishing industry and other jobs. Juan’s parents pushed him to be a scholar as well, and he eventually graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. from La Luz College in Havana, Cuba. He later obtained his Civil/Criminal Law Juris Doctor from Saint Thomas Villanova Catholic University, also in Havana. Although he was a successful scholar, there was always a part of him that was enamored with the idea of being in the military. He was exposed at a young age to war movies with German and American paratroopers and John Wayne movies with war heroes. Little did he know that he would need to escape Cuba years later when Fidel Castro took over.
With the fire inside him to be a fighter and a newfound reason to fight, he found his passion in the U.S. Army when President Kennedy created the Cuban combat assault “Brigade 2506,” to fight in the Bay of Pigs, Cuba. A true military man, Juan devoted his life to serving the new country that provided a haven for him and his family after Fidel Castro made life too difficult to live in his home country. Moving to Miami in 1960 with a wife and two young daughters was already a difficult task, but to work for $56 a week as a dishwasher and live in a hotel for 42 days was an even bigger burden.
The military is what he was destined for—he served in a variety of divisions from being a ranger in direct action missions to being a part of the special forces and training civilians to fight for their own countries. While being a part of the famous 82nd Airborne Division as an officer in the All-American Division, he was required to be ready deployed by air within four hours along with 16,000 other paratroopers and be ready to fight on arrival. Under President Johnson, he was a part of the April 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic.
Juan commanded troops during difficult missions. During that time, he stayed true to who his father raised him to be—a moral man who treats others as he would like to be treated. He also worked with integrity, as he was taught that it’s important to do the work even when no one is looking. As a part of the Green Beret Special Forces for 25 years, his commitment to integrity never wavered. He has always been an incredible leader who needed to handle troops, their families and any problems along the way. During his time in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, he gained the trust of the natives, using the things they use and learning their way of life. It was a humbling experience for him, but he knew it was his destiny. In the 70s, he lived in Nicaragua; he was a major assigned as a training officer to the US MILGP in Managua, Nicaragua, attaché to the US Embassy.
A true military man with unwavering faith and respect for all people, he won many awards for his service. In order of importance of merit, he has received the Legion of Merit, four Bronze Stars, the Meritorious Service Medal, six Air Medals, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, three Army Commendation Medals, the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm for valor in combat in 1971. Additional badges and tabs obtained were the Combat Infantryman Badge “CIB” (awarded during the 1965 invasion to the Dominican Republic as Recon Platoon Leader) and the 2nd Battalion 325th Infantry 82nd Airborne Division as ordered By President Lyndon B. Johnson in honor of a successful mission in freeing the Dominicans from Cuban-Communist Oppression. He was also awarded US Master Parachutist Wings (with total jumps over 100 while a part of the “Centurion 82nd Airborne Division, All American” from Fort Bragg, NC, 1965-1968 (where he earned several jump wings), Vietnamese Special Forces, Vietnamese Special Forces Master Parachute Wing (Vietnam 1971), Bolivian Special Forces Master Parachute Wing, Cochabamba (Cite) Bolivia 1971, the Spain Master Halo Parachute Wing, the Halo Jump Record for High Altitude Low Opening 28,500′ (at Valladolid, Spain 1978), the Parachute Rigger Wings (Ft Lee, Va. 1965), the Pathfinder Badge (Ft. Benning, Ga. 1966), the US “Ranger” Tab (Ft. Benning, Ga. 1964) and US Special Forces, “Green Beret” (Ft, Bragg, Nc.. 1970). In addition to his many medals, badges and tabs, he graduated from the U.S. Armed Forces Staff College in 1978 and the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College in 1979. A visitor to his home will see a mini museum filled with war memorabilia, photos of him with various politicians and his many awards.
Juan is now retired. He and his wife live in a beautiful lakefront home in Miami, where he enjoys kayaking and taking it easy. As an 84-year old disabled combat veteran, he keeps looking forward, strong in his faith and sure of his purpose in life. Juan does not let his disability keep him down; he is determined to live to see 100 years of age! Even after everything he has been through, Juan states “being a Ranger and having to be in a sleeping bag in negative 75-degree weather brought me the perspective to know what life is all about”. He believes “people complain about so many trivial things, but [we] need to understand how good it is to be living in the United States in freedom, justice and prosperity.” Juan’s life exemplifies courage. It illustrates that even though we go through bad things, it is important to overcome and persevere like an obstacle in combat and to bypass it, however possible, while praying to God.