VICENZA, Italy -- The Department of the Army selected Public Health Activity-Italy's food safety officer as the 2017 U.S. Army Veterinary Services Warrant Officer of the Year.
Warrant Officer Abraham Montemayor is the 27th recipient and second warrant officer one in history to receive the prestigious award. The U.S. Army Veterinary Service Corps selected Montemayor above every eligible warrant officer applicant based on character, positive influence, leadership and accomplishments.
"I was not expecting it at all; it completely blindsided me. In all honesty, I have a really great command team," Montemayor said.
"The title of 'Veterinary Corps Warrant Officer of the Year' is truly fitting," said Lt. Col. Justin Schlanser, U.S. Army Africa's Command Veterinarian.
Montemayor directly contributes to the U.S. Army's number one priority, readiness. He supported U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School's mobile team to train 15 Public Health Command Europe food inspectors on the Installation Food Vulnerability Assessment Course. He also educated U.S. Air Force preventative medicine personnel on basic food safety.
"Our primary purpose is to ensure the warfighter is safe," Montemayor said. "A foodborne illness can cripple a unit and make them completely incapable. Dehydration, bacteria, food poisoning…you can't do your job while you're sitting on the toilet."
Montemayor summed up his responsibilities as verifying the safety of food "from the farm to the dinner plate."
"Ultimately, we are just making sure that the water and food U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Europe Command is consuming, at the minimum, meets U.S. standards, but is maintained and processed in such a way that it is safe all the way to the warfighter's plate," Montemayor said. "We educate commanders and assess risk so they can make an informed decision."
Montemayor's food safety and defense mission spans across the globe, including 475 facilities in EUCOM, U.S. Central Command and AFRICOM. In six months, he traveled to over 200 food service locations in Europe and Africa to ensure Soldiers and civilians were receiving food and water that is safe for consumption.
"It's not typical for a warrant officer one to be put overseas. Traditionally, (they) are learning their craft, and so they are placed at branch levels which would be below the company level or working on teams stateside," Montemayor said.
Montemayor conducts audits in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He describes audits in Africa as the most challenging because they are multi-faceted. Political, cultural, distance, logistics, technological and economic concerns present unique hurdles in the realm of food safety.
"We have to be culturally sensitive," he said. "It's acceptable in some places to slaughter an animal, leave it out at room temperature, take what you need throughout the day and serve it up. That would not meet our requirements, as far as sanitation."
He describes the challenges of audits using a mathematical analogy.
"Doing audits in general is like algebra. You have to get in there, understand it and practice it often. In Europe and CENTCOM, we are moving into a calculus level. In Africa, it really is like you're doing quantum physics."
According to Montemayor, Schlanser serves as one of his mentors and one of the key people contributing to his success. Schlanser gave positive feedback about Montemayor's efforts and considers Montemayor to be one of the best in the field.
"Products that he developed in response to the challenges of performing audits in Africa are now the default method used by USARAF Force Health Protection to coordinate food and water sources in support of exercises and operations," Schlanser explained.
Montemayor's crowning innovation is the creation of an interactive map graphically depicting PHA-I audits of 136 facilities in 26 countries. The public health regional commander uses this map to brief key leaders, general officers and combatant commanders.
"Warrant Officer One Montemayor's support to AFRICOM in the last year has been innovative and changed how we can track approved sources on the continent," Schlanser said.
"If I'm a combatant commander and I need to make sure that my troops have safe water, safe food and it's a limited resource, I'm going to want to know where those sources are, and get the warfighter the resources they need to successfully accomplish the mission," Montemayor explained.
Montemayor's map saves manpower and resources. Commanders and public health professionals can use Montemayor's innovation to source and plan requirements instead of more expensive methods such as sending individuals to travel to Africa for specific inspections.
Montemayor says he owes his success to former and current leadership and direct, honest advice. He plans to continue to serve in the U.S. Army and aspires to complete his master's degree in public health, begin and complete a master's degree in food science, and eventually complete a doctorate. He plans to eventually promote to chief warrant officer five and serve in the army's highest medical echelon, U.S. Army's Medical Command.