Jaime Montes hugs his father, Mario Montes, just before getting onto a shuttle Dec. 10 in Rifle. The shuttle was taking Jamie to Denver, where he would get on a plane to go to basic training. Jaime has signed a six-year contract to be an aerial gunner on a C-130 in the United States Air Force.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Jaime Montes hugs his father, Mario Montes, just before getting onto a shuttle Dec. 10 in Rifle. The shuttle was taking Jamie to Denver, where he would get on a plane to go to basic training. Jaime has signed a six-year contract to be an aerial gunner on a C-130 in the United States Air Force.

Aiming for new horizons

Craig teenager starts life in the United States Air Force

— The black Ford truck navigates its way through the snow-covered southern Moffat County landscape. The stillness outside grows with each mile gone by, each mile farther away from home and closer to the separation point.

A silence is interrupted when Maria Montes, a Craig woman, reaches back from the passenger seat for her son, Jaime Montes.

Maria hides her sorrow well: Jaime can't see a tear rolling down her face from his place in the back seat, her watery eyes hidden behind her large glasses.

Not a word is spoken, as neither mother nor son choose to give credence to the hard fact of the day - they don't know when they will be this close again.

Then Maria then speaks.

"Keep studying : and save your money," Maria calls back to him in Spanish. "Just keep in your heart we'll always love you."

Jaime's father, Mario, who is driving, glances back through the rear-view mirror to look at his 18-year-old son, who is dressed in a white jacket and jeans, a baseball cap holding back his increasingly wild hair.

But as Jaime stares out of the window, it seems like he has other things on his mind.

"Six years goes by fast," Mario says, breaking the tension slightly with optimism.

Jaime listens to his parents and nods in agreement.

In the window, Jaime uses the fogged-up glass as a palette to write.

Simply.

"USAF."

Leaving

Perhaps it is a parent's rite of passage to go through this, and every child, to have moments like these, moments that signal the end of one of life's chapters and the beginning of another.

For this family, the moment is particularly hard.

"He's the first one to leave home, the first one that separates from the family," Maria said a week before, clutching a bear Jaime had bought as a present for his girlfriend that summer. "And he's my baby."

Today's destination, for Mario and Maria at least, is Rifle, where they will deliver their youngest son.

For Jaime however, Rifle is not the final destination. Today is the beginning of a journey he will embark on to places bigger than he's ever seen before.

Jaime has signed up to be an aerial gunner for a C-130 gunship in the United States Air Force. He has signed a six-year contract and is on his way to basic training.

For the boy who is becoming a man, who will soon work with the tools of war for America's skies, the journey marks another significant milestone. It will be Jaimie's first time aboard an airplane.

Although Maria says she is heartbroken about her son's departure, she knows this has been a long time coming.

It started in kindergarten, with a field trip to an Air Force base near Clovis, N.M., where his family was living at the time.

There was a broken-down jet there, and the children were allowed to get into the cockpit.

"Ever since," Jaime said, "I've been attracted to airplanes."

Jaime began to talk about joining the military service, something his mom brushed off.

Through the years, it subsided, but the idea never left the back of his mind.

Wading through high school, Jaime wasn't sure where he was going to go once he graduated.

"Once I graduated, I didn't see myself as a college kid," Jaime said. "So I thought to myself, 'Why not, why not just go?'"

"He had told us since he was very little he was going to do this," Maria said. "I wanted him to develop a career."

Maria begged him not to go.

"It does feel different," Mario said, "because of what's going on in the world."

Jaime saw the service as something different.

He saw an opportunity.

He saw a place to bring discipline into his life.

In short, he saw a future built of his own labors.

He saw honor and duty in the Air Force, a place where he could see the world, make money and where he could eventually go to college when he is ready.

"We're not 100 percent in agreement with him, but we're behind him," Mario said.

People to depend on

Jaime's parents came to America from Madera, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

They took advantage of a 1987 amnesty that was signed into effect by then President Ronald Reagan.

The family found itself in Craig eight years ago.

Mario started a construction business, and Maria worked as a housekeeper.

His parents worked hard to provide for their children, and in turn asked only for good grades in school.

"Some parents make their kids work from early on, and they are strict with their money and we have never been that way," Maria said. "I think in part may be why Jaime doesn't have that discipline."

Jaime agreed.

He said he is nervous about breaking out on his own, that Dad won't be right there any more to ask for help.

"And that's kind of what I want though," Jaime said. "I want to grow up and be free and stop depending on somebody."

An extended family

The final week Jaime spent in town was spent with friends and family.

Maria threw a going-away party the Saturday night before he left, making enough food to feed a small army.

At least 30 people, a mix of every age and interest, crammed into the small garage located beside the Montes household.

A cake, adorned with one of his senior pictures and the words "Good Luck Jaime" sat on the table.

Jaime didn't have a spare moment as people he knew filed in to wish him a fond farewell.

Following dinner, he stood up and thanked everyone for coming.

With the entire room huddled around him, he thanked them for their support. That he really needed it where he is going.

And then, with the room around him silent, he thanked his mom. Both of them.

Jaime said he is forever shaped by Maria, and another woman who he also refers to as mom, Elisa Wilson.

Jaime met Elisa and her family shortly after moving to Craig.

He credits Elisa for always encouraging and pushing him.

Jim, Elisa's husband, also was in the Air Force and one of the first people Jaime told about enlisting once he made the decision.

Looking at both of his moms seemed to trigger something in him.

Jaime's girlfriend, Jessica Johnson, thought maybe it was a moment of clarity.

"When he realized he was going to actually leave," she said, "that he was growing up."

For a kid who's never lived in a big city, a future traveling around the world made Jaime nervous.

"It's like, what if you don't like it? What if you don't make it? You have all these what-ifs," he said. "But what Elisa told me was to get those out of your head. That I was awesome. She saw the man inside of me."

Final good-bye

Pulling into Rifle on Dec 10 Jaime gives his parents directions to his shuttle.

Mario makes a wrong turn, and Jaime makes a joke about jumping the curb to get over to their destination.

They all laugh, and it seems for almost a moment that they've forgotten what change was afoot.

As they pull into the parking lot and get out of the truck, reality sets in.

Jaime hugs his parents several times.

Very little is said in the short exchange.

And with that, Jaime gets into his shuttle and is off, a passage into adulthood.

From Rifle, he will go to Denver and then to San Antonio for six weeks of basic training. From there, it's anyone's guess where the young airman will end up.

And maybe that's the point. That perhaps everyone must make his own way in a world that offers only one certainty - that nothing is certain.

If you're lucky like him, you'll be able to fall back on the lessons taught by your family, no matter what the circumstances may be, Jaime said.

"Eventually, my sisters and brother will leave," he said the day before his exodus. "We all grow up, and they'll have to let go. But (my parents) will realize they are awesome people and what they taught us will stay with us. They did well."

(Note: All quotes from Mario and Maria Montes were translated to English by Francisco Picado, of Clear Concepts, and Jaime Montes.)

Hans Hallgren can be reached at 284-7031, ext. 213, or at hhallgren@craigdailypress.com

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