Sanchez Reflects on Hispanics' Role in the Military
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2004 To commemorate National Hispanic Heritage Month, the U.S. military's highest-ranking Hispanic officer described Hispanics' role in the military as one of mutual benefit.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the Army's 5th Corps in Germany, said the military can help Hispanics find their way out of poverty, and the military gets great dedication in return.
"I think what (Hispanic servicemembers) bring is tremendous loyalty, tremendous dedication to our country and to our democratic values," said Sanchez during a Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service interview Sept. 16. "We also bring the diversity to our services that is so powerful in making us the great military that we are."
In the past few years, Sanchez said, there has been an effort to increase the representation of minorities, Hispanics in particular, in the military.
Sanchez said that maintaining Hispanic representation in the military has been difficult and remains a challenge, particularly in the officer corps. "Part of that difficulty is that Hispanics are not graduating from high school and then not going on to college to get commissioned," he said.
In general, across American society, Hispanics are making contributions across all of society, said Sanchez, who formerly commanded Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Iraq.
"I think it is a well-known fact that the soldier, the servicemember, that leaves the military and reintegrates back into society in civilian life is a lot more disciplined, is a lot more mature, and has a perspective on our democratic principles and has perspective on world issues that is much greater than the average initial hire out in there in our society," he said.
In looking at the recent past, Sanchez said he sees an increased representation of Hispanics across all sectors of society. This is due, in part, to the increase in the Hispanic population, now the largest minority group in the United States, and an increased emphasis on education. "I think there is a very powerful base that can be garnered if we can, in fact, encourage continued education, encourage that segment of our culture," Sanchez said.
The general said opportunities exist for Hispanic servicemembers. Sanchez admitted his military service as a minority officer hasn't always been smooth sailing, but many people helped him along the way.
"There have been challenges as a minority officer within this institution," Sanchez said. "But when I look back and think about all the superiors that helped me succeed, you can't help but accept that this is probably one of the best institutions in our country for providing equal opportunity to all of its members. And our procedures and our systems are such that it does give every segment of our society the ability to be successful."
The system, he said, provides the opportunity for success based on potential and competence, allowing for true equality.
He noted that in his career he has met Hispanic soldiers who were not American citizens but were dedicated to the American way of life -- the freedoms and the opportunities.
With National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Sanchez said it's important for the military to celebrate diversity in the armed forces. "When I look at our Army in the different theaters that I have served in, we have all of our ethnicities, all of our races represented, and this is a concept that a lot of societies have not been able to embrace," Sanchez said. "We're a country that provides equal opportunity based on our democratic principles."
He said the fact that all ethnicities are represented gives America its strength and makes the U.S. Army the best in the world.
As for the best way for commands to celebrate Hispanic heritage during the month, Sanchez said leaders must commit to ensuring that all minorities, not just Hispanics, understand the significance of their service.
"It's about ensuring that those minority groups understand the value of their service, the value of the contributions that they have made as individuals and also as a segment of the society to the overall good of America," Sanchez said.