Feature   Know Your Military

Face of Defense: Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

Sept. 7, 2021 | BY Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Mikaela Frias , 6th Marine Corps District

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan is a prior enlisted Marine who climbed his way through the officer ranks after escaping the revolution in Nicaragua in 1987. He's traveled to more than 20 countries, including a combat deployment, and has been recognized with numerous personal awards. He has fully immersed himself in the American experience – becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2002 – while retaining his cultural identity.

A Marine looks at the camera.
Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan, with 6th Marine Corps District, remembers his journey at 11 years of age from Nicaragua to the U.S., and how his upbringing led him to a life of military service at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina, on Sept. 3, 2020. Montalvan enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1995, and earned a commissioning through the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program in 2002.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Jorge A. Rosales
VIRIN: 200903-M-GP312-044

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan
Job Title: District Recruiting Operations Officer
Hometown: Hialeah, Florida
Stationed: Parris Island, South Carolina
Unit: 6th Marine Corps District

Where are you from?

I was born in Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America. When I was a boy growing up in Nicaragua, I remember the country's incredible natural beauty, amazing people, delicious food and sharks that swam in a freshwater lake. In 1987, right before my 12th birthday, I would've been conscripted into the Nicaraguan military. I fled Nicaragua on a monthlong journey through Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to live in the United States with my aunt and uncle, who raised me. We lived in Hialeah "La ciudad que progresa," near Miami, Florida. I met up with my uncle and human traffickers who promised passage across the Rio Grande in freezing water. I didn't know how to swim. I grabbed a rubber tube. I was confused and upset, not understanding why my mom made me go through all of that, giving me away to family members I didn't know. My uncle and I were detained at the airport, but our case was transferred to the Miami Immigration and Naturalization Service office, so we were released and able to go to Miami. I love my aunt and uncle and refer to them as mom and dad today.

A headshot of a Marine in uniform.
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan, with 6th Marine Corps District, as a corporal before undergoing the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program. Montalvan enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1995, and earned a commissioning through MECEP in 2002.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo by Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan
VIRIN: 200903-M-GP312-691

Why did you want to become a Marine?

I knew if I stayed in South Florida, I wouldn't achieve what I wanted to. I wanted to continue learning English and improve my education, which would lead to better job opportunities. I knew that if I stayed around the same people, I felt that I would never learn English correctly, since we would revert back to speaking Spanish all the time. In addition, I knew it would limit my education and job opportunities. I also wanted to travel and see the world. That's when I thought of the Marine Corps as the solution.

After I enlisted, I thought about becoming a Marine Corps officer. I realized becoming an officer would allow me to lead, mentor and coach Marines. I wanted to have a positive impact and help others actualize a path to their full potential.

How has your childhood shaped the leader you are today?

My childhood and upbringing allowed me to see obstacles and challenges as opportunities. As a result of my experiences, I believe that all Marines have unlimited potential and can achieve their goals and dreams through hard work and perseverance, even if it might seem impossible. I might have high expectations, but my motto is, "If I can do it, so can you!"

A photo of Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan as a child.
Child Photo
Photo of Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan, with 6th Marine Corps District, as a child. Montalvan enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1995, and earned a commissioning through the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program in 2002.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo by Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan
VIRIN: 200903-M-GP312-152A

What is your proudest moment as a Marine?

The proudest moments are when Marines whom I have served with contact me to share their accomplishments, ask me for advice and/or share special family moments. The calls, messages and emails confirm that fostering a positive environment and developing professional relationships will have a long lasting positive impact on any person. I feel that this is part of the legacy of being a Marine, helping other Marines succeed. 

A Marine unit poses for a group photo.
Unit Pose
Marine Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan and his unit when he was younger.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo by Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan
VIRIN: 200611-M-DO439-115

How did 9/11 impact you?

I was attending Florida State University when 9/11 took place. I was coming out of an international law school class when I saw everyone gathering at the student center, and then I saw the news. I decided to take more classes so I could get back to the Fleet Marine Force as quickly as I could. I wanted to protect my country no matter the cost. I wanted to graduate as quickly as I could. 

Who is your role model?

As I was growing up, many people positively influenced my life, but no one was more influential than my aunt and uncle, whom I refer to as mom and dad. They raised me as their own son; they loved and cared for me unconditionally. They made sacrifices to ensure that all my needs were met. While growing up, we didn't have an abundance of anything, but I always had food, shelter and love, and that was more than I needed.

In the last 10 years, my role model has been my wife, Kerrie. She balances taking care of our kids, breaking powerlifting records and being a military spouse with ease. Without her, we would be lost. She places our needs and desires above hers! Her love, drive and expectations keep us strong and drive us toward our goals.

I could not have asked for better role models in my life.

A husband and a wife pose for a photo.
Couple Pose
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan and his wife, Kerrie.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo by Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan
VIRIN: 200611-M-DO439-010

What are some hobbies you have outside of the Marine Corps?

My favorite hobby, without a doubt, is coaching soccer! I have been a youth soccer coach since 1996. In the last 25 years, I have coached numerous teams and hundreds of kids. Many of the kids are now adults with families of their own, but they still message me and stay in touch. However, my favorite soccer players are my sons, Ethan and Ean, who love to wear the #9 and #10 jerseys.

A family poses for a photo in a grassy field.
Family Photo
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan, his wife, Kerrie, and their children.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo by Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan
VIRIN: 200611-M-DO439-009

In addition, since October 2020, I have been serving as the Marine Corps representative for the Association of Naval Services Officers. ANSO is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the recruitment, retention and promotion of Hispanics and Latinos across all ranks of the United States sea services. ANSO provides me with the opportunity to have a positive impact on others and help them achieve their full potential, which is one of the reasons I became a Marine officer.

A coach poses for a photo with his youth soccer team.
Soccer Team
Marine Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan and his fellow Marines and the youth soccer team he coaches.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo by Lt. Col. Jose Luis Montalvan
VIRIN: 200611-M-DO439-015