Navy Official Encourages Military Diversity in Globalized World
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 24, 2004 We are living in a completely different world today, where diversity is a force multiplier in the global war on terrorism, a top Navy personnel official said.
"We need to continue being a nation of immigrants," Assistant
Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs William A. Navas Jr.
said, "not in the old paradigm of a melting pot, but more of a nation of
immigrants where we value diversity, language, culture. Because that's the only
way we, working in this new era of globalization, can maintain our position in
the world." Defense Dept. photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"We need to continue being a nation of immigrants," Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs William A. Navas Jr. said in an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service on Sept. 22. "Not in the old paradigm of a melting pot, but more of a nation of immigrants where we value diversity, language, culture. Because that's the only way we, working in this new era of globalization, can maintain our position in the world."
The United States' great diversity can serve as a tremendous strength, Navas said. That strength comes in the understanding of other countries, people and cultures -- and making sure other countries, people and cultures can relate to the United States.
As a young Hispanic, Navas took advantage of what the military had to offer. This year's recipient of the Hispanic Magazine Achievement Award for Leadership, Navas was commissioned as an Army officer in 1965. He left active duty in 1970 as a captain and joined the Puerto Rico National Guard. He retired as a major general from his last active-duty position as director of the Army National Guard from 1995 to 1998.
He said the military still has a lot to offer a lot of young people, not just Hispanics. "It's a great place to learn discipline, to learn responsibility, to strengthen your values, to learn teamwork, leadership. For any young person out there it is a great place," Navas said. "For a young Hispanic, especially for our young immigrants, it is a place to demonstrate that you're serious about coming to this country and that you're willing to share in the defense of the country."
Today, he said, the military seeing to the nation's security and defense is top-notch. More so than the Vietnam-era military he served in, he said.
"Today's military, after the end of the draft in 1973, is a high-quality military," Navas said. "I see the quality of the soldiers, the airmen, Marines and the sailors that we have today, and it's a vast difference."
But Navas does see developing Hispanics' role as military leaders as a challenge largely centering on language skills and guidance.
"In leadership roles, communications skills are very, very critical," he said. "And what I see (lacking) in a lot of our young Hispanics -- although they are very bright, very capable (are) their language skills in English. English for them, for all of us, is a second language."
He said weakness in English is often "perceived as a lack of leadership ability." Parents need to make sure kids don't lose their native tongue, he said, but they also really need to encourage them to master English.
Navas said that Hispanic leadership in the military needs to be encouraged. Such leadership isn't where it should be because the seeds weren't planted 20 years ago, he said. Those seeds are being planted today, but developing Hispanic leaders in the military will take time.
"You don't basically hire a general or a sergeant major, or a colonel you have to grow them."
Though many don't agree with him, Navas said, he would like to see a day when it wasn't necessary to celebrate minority heritage months.
"We're beyond that. But if we're going to do that, I would not encourage the stereotype of having a couple of burritos, two tacos, a Mariachi band and then forget about the whole thing," Navas said. "We need to look at what are the contributions that Hispanics have made.
"I have said before that I think the new paradigm, rather than a melting pot, should be like a salad bowl. We have all these different ingredients -- with different colors and textures and tastes -- and what binds us together is this salad dressing of core American values," he said. "I think that's the America that I see in the 21st century."