Caldera Calls for Help in Recruiting Hispanic Youths
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 1998 Hispanic community leaders must help reverse a high school dropout rate that prevents many willing Hispanic youths from joining the military, Army Secretary Louis Caldera said recently.
The armed forces need to reflect the society they serve, said Caldera, the first Hispanic Army secretary. The services know their ranks don't reflect the Hispanic population's presence or phenomenally rapid growth, so they're recruiting intensely in Hispanic communities, he said.
"If you want to make your recruiting goals, you have to recruit the people who are available. That means you have to recruit more Hispanics and other minorities," he told the American G.I. Forum convention in Corpus Christi, Texas, in August. Success, however, is a challenge, he added.
"When young Hispanics are asked if they're interested in joining the Army, their overwhelming response is 'yes,'" he noted. And yet, "We're having a hard time recruiting Hispanic youth in the numbers we'd like to have them in our Army."
The services' problem hasn't been finding Hispanic recruits, but qualifying them. Caldera urged more than 1,000 conferees to help persuade Hispanic youth to stay in school. A high school diploma is an important key, and he hammered that point home to the audience, calling the national Hispanic high school dropout rate "alarmingly high," "a national disgrace" and "something we all must commit ourselves to doing something about."
The dropout situation thwarts military recruiters, he said, though, ironically, Hispanics have the best retention rate once they're in uniform -- they want to stay in. Hispanics today comprise 30 percent of the nation's 18-to-24-year-old population, but their numbers in the military are only 7 percent enlisted and 3.5 percent officers, he said.
"With the help of groups like the American G.I. Forum, we're starting to change that," he said. "With outreach efforts over the past two years, we're seeing our recruiting numbers go up from about 7 percent closer to 10 percent. ROTC enrollment is now 7 percent. We're starting to see the foundation and the base we need to have if we're going to move these soldiers up the ranks so they aspire someday to be the four-star generals and sergeants major of our Army."
Caldera said he encourages young Hispanics to spend some time in the military, particularly the Army. Those who serve, he said, "will come out stronger and better citizens. They'll get great education, training and self- discipline. They may find that it's something they love doing and decide to make a career of it.
"I see military service as a part of your civic obligation as an American," Caldera said. He credited that attitude to his parents, who emigrated from Mexico in 1956. They believed in education, he said, and a love of country and a responsibility to give something back to the community and the country. "That made me think that I wanted to be a leader for our country and had something to contribute," the secretary said.
Caldera, 42, comes from a family of seven and is the only one among five children with military service. The Los Angelean graduated in 1978 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and spent five years on active duty as a the military police officer and in military intelligence. He separated from the Army in 1983, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1987 and entered local politics. He rose to be a California state assemblyman prior to his appointment as civilian head of the Army.