Attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis as a computer science major would keep most people busy.
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But not Nick Montez, 25, of Somerset who seems to always be up to a new challenge.
Home from the U.S. Naval Academy for Christmas, Montez said that soon after entering Annapolis in 2009, he started taking pictures as a hobby at Navy sporting events and would drop them off at the office of the Navy newspaper for their use.
They liked his work so much that when he volunteered to take pictures on a regular basis they jumped at the offer and gave him a press pass. Since then he’s cultivated a following and also takes pictures of his classmates to send home or post on their Facebook pages.
Over the past four years, Montez said he’s covered any number of Army-Navy games, boxing matches, lacrosse games, soccer matches, pep rallies, and a run they do annually before the Army-Navy game. It’s a relay race where they run a football 120 miles from Annapolis to Philadelphia the day before the big game. He takes pictures of the runners along the way. He figures he now has tens of thousands of pictures to his cred.
A young man with a very busy schedule, on a weekly basis he spends six to seven hours taking photos. In addition he takes 18 units of courses and of course there’s study time and attendance at mandatory briefings. Since everyone at the Academy is required to play a sport, he also participates in intramural boxing and ship handling.
He said he has met and talked to Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta at games as well as the current chair of the joint chiefs, General Martin E. Dempsey. Montez said he talked to Panetta a long time, asking him what it was like being the Secretary of Defense and what advice he had for him in his career. He said Gen. Dempsey “talked about life and what the different Army-Navy guys are up to.”
Montez said the military brass enjoy speaking to their midshipmen. “They think it’s part of molding their character,” he said. He’s also gained from the experience. “I used to be the shyest guy in the world. Now I can walk up and talk to anyone.”
Montez said he has pictures of midshipmen meeting famous people and he has met a few himself. He said President Obama shook his hand twice one day at an 2011 Army-Navy game in Washington D.C.
He said on another occasion he actually shared a moment with the President who was going down the line shaking hands. Montez was wearing ear muffs at the time because it was December in Philadelphia. Obama stopped and said “ear muffs, good idea.”
He said the incident happened as Obama was coming on to the field. “He’s the only one allowed to root for both sides in the Army-Navy game,” said Montez. “At half time there is a big ceremony as he formally switches sides.”
Montez said photographing football games means getting out on the field for action shots. That cost him a cleat to the back of his head once as he took a dive to protect his camera. He’s also been hit with a ball and is frequently smacked with sweat from the boxers he’s photographing. “Boxing is big at the academy,” he said.
One of the more interesting rituals of military life he recounted is receiving a token of appreciation from the brass. These tokens are custom-made coins that upper-level officials from the Secretary of Defense on up give out to recognize actions beyond the call of duty. The coins have no value as currency but one coin trumps another depending upon who they’re received from. “If you talk to them, they give you a token,” said Montez who said he has a bunch of them from all kinds of people. “I’ve probably met the most high up people of anyone at the Academy.”
Montez’s days of photographing Annapolis-related sporting events are winding down, however, because on May 24 he graduates and receives his commission as an ensign. He will then be assigned to a ship which he believes will either be an aircraft carrier or an amphibious assault ship.
The computer science major said on ship he will work in the field of cyber warfare. He noted that it’s an important field and during his time at the Academy he has heard a number of presentations on the growing threat of cyber warfare from government officials and corporate leaders.
In the meantime Montez continues taking pictures as well as working on his latest project which is building a guitar. He said he took up playing the guitar last year and wanted a better instrument than the one he started with. But when he found out what they cost, he decided to build his own from scratch.
But he’s not intimidated by not having any previous experience building a guitar because, as he said, “the military taught me to set myself up for success.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.