By Ashley HenryOctober 16, 2009
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 16, 2009) -- When Dr. Joseph Westphal's father moved his family from Chile to the United States, he told them to never lose the pride of their heritage - to maintain their language and their cultural connections.
Looking at new Under Secretary of the Army Westphal, many do not immediately recognize his culture, until they realize he took his father's lessons to heart.
"My father told me you need to be proud of your Spanish, never hesitate to be who you are ... so I grew up with a great deal of pride and maintained my language," Westphal said.
Westphal was sworn in as under secretary of the Army Sept. 21 and now serves in the Army's No. 2 executive leadership position, directly under Secretary of the Army John McHugh, who was sworn in during the same ceremony.
At the Hispanic-American Heritage Month observance Thursday at Fort Belvoir, Va., Westphal showed his pride for his culture and how well he has maintained his language by shocking the crowd and opening his remarks in Spanish.
For Westphal, celebrating not only his culture but all the diverse cultures that make up this country is why recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month is important.
"I am a Hispanic and it is a celebration of my own cultural heritage, but I think it is also important because we have to recognize that we are a very diverse society," Westphal said. "In the military we are more diverse than any other sector in society so acknowledging that diversity through these kinds of recognitions is very important."
And in a society where everyone -- unless a descendent of native Americans -- is from somewhere else, each brings something different to the American culture, Westphal said.
The Hispanic community, Westphal said, brings core values that are endemic in the Army culture - "family, love of country, commitment to community, commitment to the nation, service to the nation and selfless sacrifices."
"I think it's important because those are also the core values we want to build in our Army and in our society to the extent that we can integrate that into our overall ability to move forward as a really progressive institution."
As the Army moves forward as an institution, it is also important, Westphal said, that all Americans move forward in their communities, which is what he believes the theme of this year's Hispanic Heritage Month, "Embracing the Fierce Urgency of Now," means.
"I think that urgency in terms of the Hispanic community means that it is time for those people that are Hispanics or Latinos in this country to be more serious about integrating themselves into this society," he said. "Working harder to become part of this society, whether it's a language, whether it's a job, whether its education. We can't segregate communities."
Westphal isn't the first Hispanic to hold one of the Army's highest offices and he isn't new to the Army either. During the Clinton administration, Louis Caldera was the secretary of the Army and Westphal was assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works. Westphal also served as acting secretary of the Army for almost three months during the early days of the Bush administration in 2001.
This time, however, we are a nation at war, Westphal said, and the OPTEMPO is very different.
"We are at the cusp of some very critical decisions about where we are going to go in the future with Afghanistan. So it is extremely exciting; it's great to be back with this incredible institution called United States Army."
While the new position is exciting for Westphal, he also describes it as very daunting. Managing one of the largest enterprises in the world, he said, when taking into account the budget in place due to the ongoing war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is a daunting task. But Westphal said he isn't alone in managing this enterprise.
"There are so many talented people and so much commitment to doing it well on the part of everybody -- from the chief of staff and of course the secretary of the Army and others -- there is no question in my mind that we will continue to be successful."
As the country continues to grow and recognize diversity and equal opportunity for all, Westphal noted the accomplishments the country has made, such as electing the first African-American as president.
"I think that the significance," Westphal said, "is that no one thinks anything of the fact that we have Hispanics in leadership positions."