PUEBLO, Colo. – Nestled at the junction of the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek in southern Colorado is the city of Pueblo, home to just over 110,000 residents. With more Medal of Honor recipients per capita than any city in the world, Pueblo was appropriately coined “The Home of Heroes”.
Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower once joked, “What is it… something in the water out there in Pueblo? All you guys turn out to be heroes!” While he may not be receiving the Medal of Honor on this mission, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Montelongo, a current resident of Pueblo and combat medic assigned to 52nd Brigade Engineer Battalion on Fort Carson, Colorado, has become a hometown hero in another way.
“It means a lot to me personally,” said Montelongo. “Coming to my hometown where I was born and raised and being able to help out my local community and get community members vaccinated.”
The 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Soldiers deployed from Fort Carson, Colorado to the Community Vaccination Center (CVC) at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo in support of the whole-of-government, federal vaccination response mission. The Pueblo CVC is a federal pilot site designed to effectively provide up to 3,000 vaccinations per day with Soldiers, civilian nurses, and members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) working side-by-side.
“It’s actually been a pretty good experience,” said Montelongo. “It’s great that we have people from all over the United States and the local community that are here helping out.”
Montelongo’s role at the Pueblo CVC is the Lane 11 Non-commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC). Lane 11, or the ‘Curveball Lane’, as Montelongo calls it, is a walk-up lane at the site welcoming a variety of community members who arrive using nontraditional vehicles. They accept community members arriving in anything ranging from wheelchairs, city busses, and Recreation Vehicles (RVs) to those that simply walk up. No matter how you arrive, Staff Sgt. Montelongo’s team will vaccinate you.
“Personally, I ensure that everything runs smoothly,” explained Montelongo. “I make sure the civilians are being rotated with our Soldiers, that way everybody is getting time with the systems and that we’re working together as a team to get people vaccinated out here.”
Montelongo is one of more than 5,000 troops from across the Department of Defense deployed on the federal vaccination mission. Combined, the mission is responsible for administering more than 3.8 million vaccinations in 25 states and one territory.
“This is definitely a different deployment as opposed to going overseas in Afghanistan,” described Montelongo, who deployed with the 101st Airborne Division. “I can still go home at the end of the day. I can still go to my daughter’s soccer practices and games and stuff like that.”
Montelongo, who was born and raised in Pueblo, graduated from Central High School in Pueblo in 2008 and currently resides in the city with his family.
“The best part about living in Pueblo is that it’s not too big, but it’s not too small. The community takes a lot of pride in where we came from,” said Montelongo.
Montelongo is married to his high school sweetheart, Sabrina, his wife of almost 11 years.
“We’ve been married since September of 2010,” explained Montelongo. “We got married a week before I left to basic training. We’ve got two kids now. My oldest is Valencia and she will be four in July, and then my youngest is Elliana; she is two.”
With a passion for helping others, Montelongo is often found volunteering at the local soup kitchen and attending local city council meetings. He looks to the future in hopes of one day making a difference in his community as an elected official.
“I try and do as much as I can now, but to be able to sit in that role, in that capacity, and hopefully make decisions for the better for the city. In the end, it would mean a lot knowing that I did something more to help out not only myself, but the community,” said Montelongo.
A blue-collar city founded on steel manufacturing and touted for its homegrown heroes, Pueblo was affected by the pandemic much like many other American cities. Montelongo is proud to do his part in bringing his hometown to new heights.
“If I had to describe the city in one word, the word I would use is ‘resilient’,” said Montelongo. “We’re a smaller city, sometimes we get overlooked. In the end, we’re still here, we’re still thriving and continuing to grow no matter what.”
U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing continued, flexible Department of Defense support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the whole-of-government response to COVID-19.