Soldiers celebrate diversity, Hispanic contributions to Army
October 18, 2012
Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind., - "Just like America is known as the melting pot, so is the military," said Maj. Jose Hernandez, whose father grew up in Puerto Rico and served in the military during the 1950's to support his parents and siblings. "In the military there are numerous races from various backgrounds or walks of life, which choose to serve and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for this country, all for the opportunity to create a better environment for their family and friends."
From 1971 to 1989 the number of Hispanic officers in the U.S. Army increased from 1.4 percent to 1.9 percent. Since 1989, the number of Hispanic officers has increased to 6 percent.
"I'm proud to say that I am part of that percentage," said Hernandez, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1991 as a fire direction specialist and received his commission in 2000. "As younger generations look around and see Hispanics in leadership positions, it provides a glimpse into possibilities. In this great nation, anyone can achieve their goals. The first step is setting attainable goals and second is never quitting until they are met."
Soldiers and civilians assigned to the 205th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East and other members of the local military community, celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month through cultural education and entertainment at Sgt. Charles H. Seston U.S. Army Reserve Center here, Oct. 12.
The keynote speaker, Jennifer Hutchinson, a representative from La Plaza, a local non-profit organization that works to empower and integrate the Latino community of Central Indiana, talked about the struggles with identity young Hispanics have growing up in America.
"Positive self-esteem is very important, that sense of not belonging leads to self-destructive behavior," said Hutchinson, who also felt isolated growing up in Mexico with an American mother who spoke English at home. "Through our programs we try and teach them that they are important, that they are valuable, that being a citizen or not being a citizen is not what gives them value and that they can become valuable citizens by their actions, by giving something good to the community."
Their efforts are paying off, Hutchinson said. There has been a revitalization of neighborhoods and churches as the Hispanic community has more than doubled in the past two decades, to encompass nearly half of the foreign-born population.
Hernandez, a logistics officer with the 205th Infantry Brigade, said it's in that diversity -- of community, country, and military -- where our strength lies.
The month-long Hispanic Heritage celebration begins Sept. 15 and celebrates the many contributions made by the Hispanic community. It originally began as Hispanic Heritage week under President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month in 1988.
Many Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, celebrate their independence on Sept. 15. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively. Finally, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which was Oct. 8, usually falls within the 30 day period.
The 3-411th Logistic Support Battalion, one of three Reserve battalions under the 205th Infantry Brigade, sponsored the local event which included traditional dances from both, Mexico and Columbia.
The event offered service members and civilians the opportunity to sample a variety of ethnic foods and culture from several Latin-American countries, said Staff Sgt. Sonia Smith (Gonzalez), a supply sergeant with the 3-411th LSB. Pointing to the table of food she said, "It's a great way to experience the diversity in our own culture."
The variety of food and dances emphasized this year's national theme "Diversity United, Building America's Future Today."
The theme refers to the vital role Hispanics play in the moments that shape our country, and during Hispanic American Heritage Month the U.S. Army recognizes the achievements and contributions of these individuals, said Col. John F. Dunleavy, commander of the 205th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East.
"That is what is great about our country and what events like these emphasize," Dunleavy said. "It takes everyone to make America great."