Governor taps Salas to head National Guard

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Andrew Salas has always been proud of the state of New Mexico.

Now, New Mexico is undoubtedly proud of the longtime military man who will command nearly 4,000 troops statewide — about 3,000 Army National Guardsmen and 1,000 Air National Guardsmen.

Adolphe Pierre-Louis-Albuquerque Journal photo: Gov. Susana Martinez stands with Col. Andrew Salas at a ceremony in Santa Fe on July 24 after appointing him adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard.

Adolphe Pierre-Louis-Albuquerque Journal photo: Gov. Susana Martinez stands with Col. Andrew Salas at a ceremony in Santa Fe on July 24 after appointing him adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard.

On July 24, Salas, a colonel, was appointed as the state’s adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard by Gov. Susana Martinez in a ceremony in Santa Fe. Salas was previously the assistant adjutant general for the New Mexico Air National Guard.

“This (appointment) means I will have the opportunity to lead citizen soldiers and airmen in defending America and protecting the lives and property of New Mexico,” Salas said.

Salas, a 1976 graduate of Belen High School and Bernardo resident, didn’t waste any time transitioning into his new role. He flew to Camp Atterbury, near Edinburgh, Ind., to see off a group of 450 soldiers who were leaving the United States for Egypt as part of a peacekeeping mission. The soldiers deployed off to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The Bernardo resident developed and oversaw ground safety policy, plans, programs and standards for over 680,000 military and civilian Air Force personnel worldwide.

He oversaw personnel and manpower accession, training, assignment, availability and accountability of soldiers and airmen assigned to joint duty during that time.

Salas, 53, takes over for Maj. Gen. Kenny Montoya who resigned in April. Salas said he was notified a day before last week’s ceremony and said he is humbled by the appointment.

He said there were other applicants for the position that were “just as capable or more capable” that himself.

Salas became interested in the position after the governor first initiated her search for the state’s next adjutant general.

In a press release, Gov. Martinez said the New Mexico National Guard will excel under their new commander.

“Under Colonel Salas, I believe the New Mexico National Guard will reach its fullest potential in its mission to defend our country and keep New Mexicans safe,” Martinez said.

Salas told his guardsmen that he would ask them to “dig deep” and “set a vision” for the soldiers in New Mexico, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

He said that vision includes carrying out current missions while working at becoming “better and smarter” in performing the job duties at the New Mexico National Guard. He wants soldiers to have the best possible training that includes skills and education to perform their duties.

Salas said he wants to use the capabilities of guardsmen to acquire new missions and additional people to help protect the state and its residents.

The New Mexico National Guard carries out missions from helping out in severe weather situations to protecting life and property of residents in the state.

The newly appointed adjutant general started his military career more than 30 years ago when he graduated with honors at the U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training School at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Since then, he has won numerous awards, including the Air Force Organizational Excellence Award and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, during his tenure.

Salas had previously served as chief of ground safety and vice-commander of the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base. He oversaw ground safety policy, plans, programs and standards for nearly 700,000 military and civilian Air Force personnel around the world.

He commanded the 332nd Expeditionary Mission Support Group at Balad Air Force Base in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Belen High School graduate said he is proud of his roots in both Valencia and Socorro counties.

“The people are hard-working and patriotic,” Salas said. “They have the faith and the core values that make America great.”

He said several friends and family members inspired him to join the New Mexico National as a young man.

Those individuals include, uncles Salo Abeyta, Didio Salas, Eulalio “Mike” Barela and Antonio Abeyta. Others are his cousin, Art Baldonado, and neighbors Leo Lovato and Rudy Delgado. He also wanted to thank his mother, Catalina Abeyta Salas.

Salas said values instilled in him by friends and family helped him to achieve his goals.

“I was inspired by my (friends and family) to start my participation in the National Guard,” Salas said. “I wouldn’t otherwise be (here).”


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.