By COL James E. Saenz, Commander, U.S. Army Garrison BavariaSeptember 25, 2013
This month, from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, we celebrate the rich heritage and reflect on the invaluable contributions Latinos (Hispanics) have made to America.
I'm writing not only as the garrison commander, but as a Soldier and a Mexican-American who is proud of his Latino heritage and proud of our great nation.
Our nation's story would not be possible without generations of Latinos who have shaped and strengthened the fabric of our United States. We have enriched every aspect of our national identity with traditions that stretch across centuries and reflect the many ancestries that comprise the Latino community.
Latinos have helped shape our communities and expand our country, from laboratories and industry, to board rooms and classrooms. We have led movements that pushed our country closer to realizing the democratic ideals of America's founding documents, and we have served courageously as members of our Armed Forces -- to defend those ideals at home and abroad.
Latinos also serve as leaders throughout the public sector, working at the highest levels of our government and serving on our highest courts.
Sixteen percent of the U.S. population identifies themselves as Hispanic or Latino. As the largest and fastest growing demographic, we number 52 million strong.
Despite this, Latinos comprise only 11 percent of our Soldiers and a much lower percentage of top government officials. There is great value is diversity and the Army strives to build upon its diversity -- hence this month's theme "Hispanics Serving and Leading our Nation with Pride and Honor."
So we must work on this under-representation by always striving to improve, by seizing opportunities for advancement, by building credibility for our community and, most importantly, by preparing our children for success. By doing so, we can help facilitate change and increase diversity throughout all sectors of society.
Latinos have been a part of the United States since our country's founding, and as one of the fastest-growing segments of the population, we will play a significant role in shaping our future.
Growth in the Latino community is good for our country. Latinos make up a young and vibrant demographic that contributes to our nation's economy through hard work and entrepreneurship.
We are active participants in our nation's social and civic life as voters, members of the armed services and community leaders. Through strong family ties and community service, Latinos are strengthening America.
Thousands of Latinos have demonstrated a deep commitment to defend the United States and its principles.
In fact, there are 1.2 million Latino veterans. Many have achieved remarkable successes in the military as well as in civil society and we should look to them for inspiration. Their stories, as well as the stories of every successful American, prove that education, supplemented with opportunity, is the key to success in life.
The military is a great place to seek, find and achieve that success; many Hispanic-Americans have been drawn to military service for that very reason.
The Army provides educational, leadership and career opportunities for our Latino youth. We need to develop the next generation of leaders -- for military or civilian careers.
The Army supports several programs and events with key Latino organizations, such as the University of Texas -- Pan American, New Futuro, LULAC National Education Service Centers, and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
The Army has a longstanding commitment to educating our nation's youth and ensuring they receive the tools and training needed to succeed in their chosen career field.
By forming partnerships with these organizations, the Army will able to help thousands of students reach their academic and career goals, and in doing so, will help strengthen our communities and our nation, while improving our own diversity.
These partnerships are part of the Army's ongoing efforts to develop the next generation of Latino leaders -- leaders who are Army Strong. They, like all of our Soldiers, are the strength of the nation.
So, as we celebrate our hard-fought achievements, we must also remember there is more work to be done to widen the circle of opportunity for the Latino community and keep the American dream within reach for all who seek it.
From promoting job creation and ensuring Latinos are represented in the federal workforce, to reshaping our education system to meet the demands of the 21st century, we must continue to build ladders of opportunity for all.
Whether we trace our roots to those who came here on the Mayflower, to those who were indigenous to the Americas, to those who settled the Southwest centuries ago, or to those who joined the American family more recently, we share a common belief in the enduring promise of America -- the promise that regardless of where we come from or what we look like, each of us can make it if we try.
The Army is a great place to find that opportunity -- for Latinos and for all Americans.