Hispanic Heritage Month an Opportunity to Explore Contributions
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2013 Hispanic Heritage Month, which began Sept. 15, marks a time to showcase the many contributions Hispanic Americans have made to the Defense Department, the Deputy Director of DOD’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity said.
Continuing through Oct. 15, the month-long observance gives people the opportunity to explore the Hispanic culture, F. Michael Sena said in a recent interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, though Hispanic heritage is not for a specific demographic group.
“It’s for everyone,” he added. “It’s our history.”
The department’s Hispanic-American population of service members and civilian employees is increasing, Sena said.
“Military and civilians throughout the world are in critical roles in DOD,” he said. “Hispanic-Americans have a deep, profound impact on DOD, and it’s through that impact that their commitment to family, faith, hard work and public service has influenced and enhanced our national culture through multicultural and multiethnic traditions. You can see that in everyday life through our food, language and art.”
About 11.5 percent of DOD’s military total force is Hispanic, and about 5.5 percent of that comprises officers, Sena said. The greatest strides are being made in Hispanic women, or Latinas, and Latina officers in particular, whose numbers have nearly doubled to 2,000 in the military in recent years, he said.
“[Latina officers] are fantastic role models to our folks throughout the country,” he said, adding that of the estimated 800,000 civilians who work for DOD worldwide, Hispanics make up about 6.5 percent.
Still, he said, Pentagon officials hope to recruit more Hispanic service members. “DOD still needs to do a lot of work to increase our numbers to be reflective of the nation,” he acknowledged.
DOD’s major strategies to increase the Hispanic population in its ranks include having a robust outreach and recruitment program, working on educational and developmental programs for future employees, and developmental programs for existing employees to refresh their skills and make them more competitive in their occupations, Sena said.
While strides have been made, he added, more progress also is needed within the realm of civilian DOD employment.
“DOD is committed to increasing its diversity and inclusion numbers,” he said, adding that diversity represents more than demographics. “We’re talking about individuals who have skills, knowledge and abilities that bring different perspectives -- diversity is key to our readiness.”
To spread the word among Hispanics that DOD is a model employer, the department engages with affinity groups, such as Latina Style, the National Organization of Mexican American Rights and the League of United Latin American Citizens to reach out to Hispanic Americans, Sena said. The department also is pursuing opportunities for Hispanics in the science, technology, engineering and math fields -- also known as STEM -- by working with students, parents and teachers.
STEM investments in individuals such as Hispanic-Americans leads to innovation, Sena noted.
“Innovation requires individuals who are creative [and] have diverse thoughts and ideas to make our lives better,” he said. “It increases quality of life, which leads to a better economy, and a better economy is a pillar of our national security.”