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Moreno Fuentes hails from the seaside town of Pineda del Mar, in northeastern Spain. The seaman’s journey to naval service started years before his birth, with the escape of his father, Jose, from his native Cuba when he was a teenager. At that time, there were few avenues open to young adults just graduating high school.
“Back then, you had three options in Cuba,” says Moreno Fuentes. “You either didn’t get good grades in high school so you’d have to join the military, you could study at university, or you could go to Russia and study there. Many Cubans went to Russia, and when it was time to go back to Cuba, they took a flight and flew anywhere else in the world.
“That’s what my dad did. Instead of going back to Cuba, he escaped to Spain.”
The years went by and Jose established a career, got married, and had two children (Imanol and his younger brother) in his adopted country. However, hard times fell on the family in 2014, when Imanol was 16 years old.
“Spain is a nice country to live in, but economically it’s struggling,” he said. “In Spain, especially in coastal areas, tourism is a big industry. My mom and dad both worked in tourism, my dad as a tour guide for Russian-speaking visitors. When [Russian president] Vladimir Putin decided to attack Ukraine in 2014, that made Russian tourism go down by more than 60%. Most of our family’s income was during summer with that tourism. So, my dad was not going make any money that year.”
It was then that the elder Moreno Fuentes faced a difficult decision. How would he support his family? After lots of consideration, he decided they would move to Miami, Fla., where they had relatives. The plan was for the parents to find work and for Imanol and his brother to go to university. They made the move in 2015. Being Cuban-born, Jose could quickly get a green card, and Imanol and his brother were able to get one as well. However, the plan hit a snag when Imanol discovered how expensive a four-year college education is in the U.S.
“The cost of college was too much,” he says.
The moment had come for Imanol to take his own leap of faith. By that time he already had a year and a half of college education under his belt and had spent several years in part-time jobs that didn’t make him much money, certainly not enough to save up for a degree. However, moving back to Spain without taking advantage of all the United States had to offer didn’t seem like a good choice, or a very courageous one. And he had heard about the military’s education benefits. The idea of enlisting grew on him more and more. But which branch to join?
“Since I had lived near the coast in Spain, I’ve always been attracted to the sea. It was at that point I thought, ‘I’m going to be a Sailor,’” he said.
Moreno Fuentes enlisted in the Navy in 2020 as an undesignated seaman with his eye on doing deck department-related work. At worst, he thought, he could get skilled in a new trade, do a few years, and get out. After completing basic training and arriving to his first duty station, Thomas Hudner, the small boats immediately caught his attention.
“I remember when I first got aboard and I saw the two RHIBs [rigid-hull inflatable boats], I thought, ‘I wanna drive those.’ It was one of the first things I wanted to do when I got here,” he said.
Moreno Fuentes took advantage of his time aboard the ship, quickly learning from deck department Sailors and gaining new skills. Finally, his work led him to his shipboard goal.
“I worked on my quals and finally got to a point where I was qualified enough to drive the RHIB.”
His skills as coxswain proved indispensable during Thomas Hudner’s participation in exercise Cutlass Fury off the coasts of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, Canada, this past summer. Safely navigating the rough, frigid waters off the eastern coast of Canada was not easy, especially in a small boat. But as coxswain, he safely transferred 24 personnel during the exercise with zero mishaps, and provided training to six small boat officers-under-instruction and two helmsmen-under-instruction.
“That day [when I did the personnel transfers] the sea was not in our favor,” he says. “We did get splashed a little bit but I tried my best to keep everyone dry and safe at the same time.”
Looking to the future, Moreno Fuentes, who is now married to a Sailor assigned to a West Coast ship, wants to strike boatswain’s mate, and eventually become a teacher.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and thanks to the Navy, I now have the funding to finish my studies. Now that I’m married, I’m also planning to go to California to be with my wife,” he said. “The Navy is helping us get co-located so we can be together again.”
Throughout it all, Moreno Fuentes attributes his success more to the support of the ship’s Sailors and leadership than any personal attributes.
“Honestly, most of the things that I do, I don’t them by myself. Without the crew I would not accomplish as much as I do. Every time that the ship gets preservation work done, it’s not a one-man job. It’s a whole team’s job. That’s something that I really emphasize.”
As his time as an undesignated seaman comes to a close and he prepares to leave his first ship, Moreno Fuentes reflects on what have been a difficult but fulfilling few years. He also wants to make use of the knowledge he’s gained on Thomas Hudner to prepare those who take his place.
“The Navy has not been an easy road. It has its ups and downs,” he confessed. “Overall, however, I feel that it’s been a great leading point in my life and career. We have new seamen coming aboard and it’s time to pass on the torch.
“It’s my responsibility to make sure all of them get the training and understanding of what Navy life is like before I leave. I’d like to help them out as much as I can.”
SURFLANT mans, trains and equips assigned surface forces and shore activities, ensuring a capable force for conducting prompt and sustained operations in support of United States national interests. The SURFLANT force is composed of nearly 80 ships and more than 30 shore commands.
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