Diversity emphasized at Hispanic American Heritage Month observance
September 28, 2012
By Rhonda Apple
"Our military is the most diverse organization in our nation's history. In 2011, there were about 20 percent African-Americans, 11 percent Hispanics, 6 percent Asian-Americans and 1.4 percent Native-Americans in our military," said Director of the U.S. Selective Service System Lawrence G. Romo Sept. 25, during remarks at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. "You are a melting pot representation of our society, descendants of immigrants who came to the United States to better their lives and now you proudly serve our country," he said.
The annual event, sponsored by the joint base Equal Opportunity Office, pays tribute to the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
The annual observance began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson. President Ronald Reagan expanded the weekly event in 1988, covering a 30-day period, beginning September 15 and ending October 15. The monthly observance was enacted into law Aug. 17, 1988.
"Our country is one of the most diverse nations in the world and America's diversity is a source of our strength. It is years of culture, traditions and heritage that have served to build that strength," said JBM-HH Commander Col. Fern O. Sumpter, when welcoming military personnel, federal employees and guests to the event at the installation's community center.
She credited Hispanic Americans, representing more than 500 years of history and the culture and traditions of 20 nations, for providing a vital part of America's rich and diverse social fabric. "America's Hispanic sons and daughters have not hesitated to show their allegiance to, and defend this nation, through military service," she said, placing emphasis on more than 40 Hispanics awarded the nation's highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor.
The colonel recalled the most recent Hispanic American to receive this honor, Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, "who lost his right hand and suffered shrapnel wounds after throwing an armed grenade away from his fellow Soldiers during a battle in Afghanistan."
Sumpter credited Maj. Gen. Angela Salinas, who took command of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Calif., in 2006. "She became the first Hispanic female to become a United States Marine Corps general officer," she said. "In keeping with this year's theme of 'Diversity United, Building America's Future Today,' let us recommit ourselves to leading the way in diversity for future generations by valuing and respecting all the distinctive talents, backgrounds and experiences that each of our Soldiers, Marines and civilian personnel bring to our joint base, to our military and to the United States of America," she concluded.
A presidential appointee as the 12th director of the U.S. Selective Service System, Romo emphasized President Barack Obama's efforts to include diversity in his cabinet and subcabinet appointees, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Memorial Affairs Steve Muro, Assistant Secretary of VA for Human Resources and Administration John Sepulveda and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia.
Romo, a Texan with a Mexican, Spanish and Native American background, addressed why there is a need to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month. "Historically, like most minority groups, due to some prejudice and ignorance, many of the contributions of Hispanics were not properly recognized. These facts were never mentioned in school or in textbooks. Happily, that started to change in the 1960s and 1970s," he said. "Now we have Hispanic Heritage Week, and then Hispanic Heritage Month to help properly recognize [the] contributions [of Hispanic Americans].
"All ethnic groups should be proud of their heritage, their contributions to our nation, and their heroes who should be honored and not forgotten," said Romo. "We all should be proud as Americans for the many contributions and ethnic heroes who took their heritage, built upon that foundation, blended together theirs with the achievements of others, resulting in a reinforced cultural mix in the national melting pot known around the world as the United States."
Romo pointed out a few of his heroes including: the most decorated Soldier in World War II, Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy; and Hispanic Americans such as personal friend Louis Richard Rocco, also a Medal of Honor recipient for actions taken Northeast of Katum, Republic of Vietnam, on May 24, 1970; Lance Cpl. Miguel Keith Hernandez, for heroic actions in Vietnam, and his great uncle, Juan Guzman, who died fighting the Germans in France shortly after the Normandy landing in 1944.
"As a Hispanic community, it's important that our young men and women graduate high school," said Romo, who emphasized, "As an ethnic group, Hispanic Americans [have] the largest dropout rate in the country." He pointed out, that without an education, it is impossible to enlist in the military, or get a good [civilian] job.
"It's important for me to be a good role model for young men and women -- not just for Hispanics -- but all ethnic groups," Romo said. "When we get these federal government positions, such as mine, it's important that we do well so we can show that all ethnic groups can succeed."
Following Romo's speech, musical entertainment was provided by The United States Army Blues Latin Combo. One of the ensemble's members, Sgt. 1st Class Pablo Talamante, also delivered the national anthem at the beginning of the ceremony.
Guests enjoyed a menu of ethnic food provided by the Fort Myer Officers Club.