Former sheriff's deputy ready for the hard work ahead

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

For one former Jim Wells County Sheriff's Deputy, the next step in his career begins today.

Premont native Robert Montalvo Jr., 23, starts today at the Department of Public Safety Training Academy in Austin.

A two-year veteran of the sheriff's department, the eager Montalvo could always be counted on by his fellow deputies to be the first to volunteer, the one to lead by example, his former co-workers said.

JWC Capt. Louie Valadez said whether Montalvo was on duty or not, he was always ready to volunteer.

"When he came fresh out of the academy, he still wasn't 21, so we had to wait a few days before he could go out on patrol," Valadez said. "He hit the ground running, though. Whether he was on duty or not, he was always the first to step up, the first to volunteer for something. He was a respectable, likeable, hard working officer and very intelligent. We are going to miss him."

For JWC Sheriff Oscar Lopez, the loss of an officer to DPS is in many ways a testament to the strength of his department.

"We have had several officers go on from here to work at the state and federal level. Nearly 10 or so in the last 10 years. Rangers, DPS, Border Patrol, Game Wardens and Federal Parole Officers have come out of this department. We've had three go to DPS in the last four years," Lopez said.

As Montalvo was one of the youngest and strongest officers on the force, it was tough for the sheriff to see him go, he said.

"We're sad to lose him, because we're losing a great man, but we know that the state is getting a great, intelligent officer who will serve their department well. We're very proud to see officers from this department join DPS," Lopez said.

For Montalvo, today is a culmination of a life-long dream. As a child, he was always attracted to a career in law enforcement.

"The DPS tries to show integrity in everything they do. It is a very strict organization that focuses on good moral character," Montalvo said.

He spent the last two years honing his law enforcement skills with JWC. He studied the Texas Criminal Code, served the community at large to the best of his ability, as a COPS in Schools officer for Premont High School and then as a patrolman.

He also trained his body, consistently eating right, exercising and lifting weights.

DPS was always the goal, but the road there took a painful turn last year, when Montalvo faced the loss of his mother, Viola.

"The application process is very difficult to get in, and I applied in September, before my mom got sick," he said.

Viola's illness took a turn for the worse, and after complications due to surgery, Montalvo faced some tough choices.

"I was in the middle of the process, I still had to pass the oral boards, which is probably the toughest part, and I had to be there for my mom at the same time. It was rough," Montalvo said.

During the oral boards, applicants face a committee of five officers, who grill the applicant for several hours, asking questions related to DPS, procedures and the officer themselves.

Viola was always proud of her son and his accomplishments; she was always behind him. Viola had faith in her son and his destiny, Montalvo said.

"She kept telling me, her last words to me were 'go for it, don't worry about me,' and that instilled in me purpose. I was determined that I wouldn't stop until I got in," Montalvo said.

Viola Montalvo passed away right before the oral boards, but her belief in her son gave him the determination and courage to succeed, and in the end, he passed and was accepted.

Now looking forward, Montalvo said the training at the academy will be the toughest he's ever had to face, but he's excited about this next stage in his life.

"I feel a little intimidated by the Academy and the surroundings, but I know I'm ready for this. I'm grateful to the sheriff and his department for giving me the chance to start my law enforcement career," Montalvo said.