A first generation immigrant’s journey to service

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alan Ricker
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs
Treated as outcasts and enduring poor quality of life conditions, a mother and her children left their home in hopes of finding a new beginning.

At the age of 5, Airman 1st Class Aniel Reina Montano, 535th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, recalled their house in Cuba being surrounded at least twice a week by several neighbors who protested their family’s political stance and beliefs.

“They wouldn’t let us leave our house,” said Reina Montano. “It was like we were detained under them."

He shared that his family was infamously known for their stance on the government, and politics which was one of the main reasons his family decided to leave Cuba in 2008 to live in Tampa, Florida.

“I remember asking my mom if as soon as I got [to the United States] if I’d automatically know English,” said Reina Montano as he recalled his flight to Florida as a young boy.

He explained that he noticed an immediate difference in living conditions, resource availability, and public interaction.

“It was just so much,” exclaimed Reina Montano, describing his first experience in a common shopping store. “You look at one place and you see food, and you look at another place and you see a bunch of toys and stuff. It [was] amazing.”

Reina Montano explained that the remainder of his childhood was relatively normal, but recalled deciding to join the military as a way to give back for the support his family received from the U.S.

He joined the Air Force on May 31, 2022, and was selected to be loadmaster in a cargo aircraft, the C-17 Globemaster III.

“[Joining the military] was a tough decision, but at the end of the day [my mom] supports me,” stated Reina Montano.

He shared that being a loadmaster is challenging, but fulfilling. It provides him with a platform to act in a pivotal role during humanitarian, air evacuation and repatriation missions.

“Every time I do [missions], I sort of laugh or smile inside because of — this is why I joined,” said Reina Montano, sharing his fulfillment of giving back.