By Judy McSpadden
As the nation celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, 9-year-old Damian Montanez, a self-described “Texi-Rican,” is taking turns at bat in “America’s game,” thanks to an Our Military Kids grant for children of wounded warriors.
Damian’s dad, SSG Francisco Montanez, having served in the Army Infantry for 11 years, suffers from a TBI, PTSD, and a host of other maladies caused by multiple blasts in various war zones, including an IED that hit his vehicle in December 2006.
“It hasn’t been easy for the family,” said Damian’s mom, Carmen Figueroa, about her husband’s situation. But she says baseball has made a huge difference for her son.
Damian knew he wanted to play ball as early as age 4. That was after he returned from two years in Puerto Rico, where he, his mother and sister stayed while his dad served on one of many deployments.
“It was very different in Puerto Rico,” said Carmen. Although she and her husband both grew up there, she wanted to be sure Damian felt comfortable — her family spoke only Spanish. Damian came to love the beach, the food, and being with his grandparents.
The only time Carmen had been to the States before moving to Ft. Bragg, NC, Francisco’s first assignment, was a week at Disney World. Today, she gets homesick if she leaves her adopted homeland for very long.
Carmen’s experience is shared by thousands of other migrant and immigrant members of the military. About 17 percent of American
forces are of Hispanic or Latino origin. A 2012 study reports 10,000 active duty military are from Puerto Rico.
As for baseball, hundreds of major league baseball players come from Puerto Rico, to include greats like Roberto Clemente and Bernie Williams. Perhaps Damian will be one of them some day.
Meanwhile, Damian will keep practicing. His dad, working toward recovery, has signed up for college courses at a local Texas community college.
Carmen says of her connection to the military, “I am 100 percent proud. The Army has never left us behind. I get emotional when I think about how my husband fought, and he did it with pride and with no regrets.”