Hispanic culture enriches Army ranks
September 27, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- The Fort Sill community was treated to a rich cultural event during the annual Hispanic Heritage month luncheon at the Patriot Club Sept. 20. With the theme Diversity Unified, the capacity crowd was treated to delicious Latin cuisine.
The entertainment was provided by the salsa ensemble of the 77th Army Band, under the leadership of Sgt. 1st Class Patricia Licon.
The guest speaker, retired Maj. Gen. Alfred Valenzuela, was introduced by Col. Michael Simley, 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade commander, the unit that sponsored the luncheon. Simley said Valenzuela was a native of San Antonio and attended St. Mary's University. He received a bachelor's degree in government and a master's degree in political science, with an emphasis on Latin American studies and national security affairs. He was a distinguished military graduate and commissioned as a second lieutenant in field artillery.
Valenzuela is no stranger to Fort Sill as an Army officer where he first arrived in 1970. He later served here from 1978 through '80, and then again from 1985 to '88. He led Soldiers at every level, having achieved the rank of major general as commander of United States Army South from July 2000 to October 2003. He also saw duty in III Corps, and in four infantry divisions.
Valenzuela stated he believes the presence of Hispanics in the military has grown in the past four decades since he came into the Army.
"I think the diversity is here now. The beauty of it is now all levels have really seen more inclusion than ever before," he said. "That is to say, the enlisted look better, and they are better led. The noncommissioned officers corps, of course, carries the banner and the officers just keep coming and they are awesome. So I think Fort Sill has changed the demographics and covered the diversity from every angle."
As an example of the cultural impact of Latinos, Valenzuela pointed out that 50 million of the 300 million people who make up the U.S. population fall under the category "Hispanic." He further stated it is an ethnicity, not a race and that 50 million covers everything from Mexicans, to Cubans, to Columbians and many other Spanish-speaking groups. And, the economic impact is even greater, he said.
"We Hispanics spend $700 billion a year. That's probably $1.38 million a minute," Valenzuela said. "If we were a country, we'd be the ninth-rated [economy], behind Canada and ahead of Spain and Mexico. If you took that one step further, in buying power, we'd be fourth behind the United States, Japan and China."
Valenzuela said one reason Hispanics join the Army and make up a proportional part of those who fight for America do so because the military provides paths for leadership, as well as economic opportunities not always found in the civilian job markets. Economically, many Hispanics are at the bottom level of the middle class, if not the lower class.
Valenzuela believes the U.S. military will eventually reflect the racial diversity of the country.
"It may not echo that diversity in the general officer ranks any time soon, but at every other level I think we will get there," Valenzuela said.
"Diversity is a topic we should embrace fully. Our Army is the best in the world and the most important role model is the American Soldier." Valenzuela said. "I think that's because of the broad blend of ethnicity we see in the faces of our Soldiers."