By Philip Reed
On April 29, 2021, WAPA welcomed Equal Employment Manager Charles Montañez to lead its Office of Economic Impact and Diversity. In the past year, Montañez has been involved in a number of initiatives to help the office move forward and evolve, as well as those on a wider scale within the organization.
His life so far has taken him on a journey of diversity and inclusion, topics which have long been his passion. That is ultimately what drew him to WAPA.
“I knew WAPA's OEID was going through some changes," he said. “I wanted to be a part of it and help reshape and build the Diversity and Inclusion program."
Montañez was born in La Junta, Colorado, and was raised in the farming town of Ordway.
“I am the fourth child of six," he said. “I have three older brothers and two younger sisters. My youngest sister died when she was only three months old."
His town was so small that he attended a county school, made up of students from five towns.
“From kindergarten to graduation, I had basically the same 55 classmates!" he said.
Growing up in such a small area, Montañez knew that he wanted to experience much more of the world.
“I wanted to travel and see as much of the world as I could, and so for high school graduation, I asked my parents for luggage," he said.
Montañez began a life of travel and exposure to other cultures and perspectives. He participated with doctors and dentists on missions to Africa, Guatemala and Haiti, and has visited many different countries across five continents. He's been to every state in the U.S., as well as Puerto Rico and Guam. He's traveled cross-country twice, lived in many major cities and he didn't stop there.
“In one of my 'adventures,' I literally flew around the world in two weeks!" he said.
His passion for travel ended up giving him a professional opportunity to share that love with many others.
“While working in Germany, I went on a United Service Organizations tour that ended up not being a very good experience," he explained. “I wrote to the director and he asked to speak with me in person. Two weeks later, I became a volunteer tour guide for them, and then ended up also as their travel lead. I created many tours and trained their staff of volunteer guides. The tour program included seven countries and about 30 cities throughout Europe."
In addition to travel, one other very important thing to Montañez is his family.
“My family always comes first, and I count my siblings as great friends as well," he said. “We often travel together. This past November, we spent a few days in Las Vegas and checked off another bucket list item for each of us as we took a day trip by helicopter through the Grand Canyon. From Las Vegas, we all met for three days in Santa Fe, which led up to a family fiesta and pig roast. In September, we will attend a once-in-every-10-years event in Oberammergau, Germany, and plans are now under way for a tropical holiday in either Hawaii or Mexico!"
Montañez's professional journey was also – less literally – all over the map.
“I went to college to become a teacher and counselor but had a medical emergency that took me out of college my sophomore year," he said, referring to everything that followed as “diverse, interesting and exciting."
Montañez has worked in banking, as a personal shopper, as a stylist and as a hospital administrator for nearly 10 years.
“To this day," he said of the latter, “it remains one of the most satisfying jobs I have ever had."
At one point, a friend of Montañez invited him to a training session at Spelman University in Atlanta, Georgia, on the subject of diversity.
That friend and two others later created a management consulting firm, and Montañez, still working for the hospital, became a partner. Within two years, they won a multiyear contract with the United States Postal Service.
“My mother passed away during that time, and the hospital was going through a merger, so I left Atlanta and served as lead consultant for our client in San Juan, Puerto Rico," he said. “I lived and worked in San Juan, as well as Chicago, and helped fulfill another contract in New York City all at the same time."
In keeping with Montañez's globetrotting tendencies, his federal career actually began in Germany.
“After just a few weeks in that country, I ended up working at the Department of Defense, Education Activity, or DoDEA," he said. “I started out as a GS-05, just so I wouldn't have to return to the U.S. every three months to get my passport validated, or so I thought!"
His job with the DoDEA quickly became a career.
“Within my first year, I became the assistant to the chief of staff, and then for both the deputy director and director as well," he said. “I also worked as an IT specialist, contracting officer representative, Equal Employment Opportunity counselor, EEO manager and, finally, due to time restrictions one is allowed to work overseas as a federal employee, I had to return to the states."
Soon afterward, Montañez took another job with DoD, this time at their headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“I got the EEO specialist job, which combined duties as an EEO counselor, diversity manager, disability program manager and special emphasis program manager all in one job," he explained. “By the end of my time with the Department, eight years later, I was the acting deputy director of the EEO and Diversity Office."
From there, he drove across the country and worked in California as the EEO director for the Navy SEALs.
“I was the EEO director for a few years," said Montañez. “Then I was approached by the inspector general to help on some inspections and with focus groups. When a position came open in their office, I got the job as the internal controls and risk manager and also became a certified inspector and investigator."
Prior to joining WAPA, he managed the SEALs' Internal Controls and Risk Management Program and served as the acting deputy inspector general.
His vast personal experience of the world, various organizations and numerous responsibilities have provided him with the valuable perspective that he brings to WAPA today.
“WAPA has a great reputation, and this opportunity allows me to get back into the EEO and diversity and inclusion world again," he said. “Also, my whole family lives in Colorado, and since I have been away for many years, it was time to move back and be closer to all of them."
Montañez is one year into his WAPA career, but he is already convinced that he made the right choice.
“I have met a lot of great, dedicated and professional people at WAPA, and so the move has already proven to be a great decision for me both professionally and personally!" he said. “I look forward to meeting so many others, and in person one day, but I am proud to serve in such a great and important organization."
Note: The author is a public affairs specialist.