DoD Holds First Observance of Hispanic Heritage Month Outside Pentagon
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Oct. 9, 2002 More than 400 military and civilian people from across the country gathered here today to attend a symposium and luncheon marking DoD's first observance of Hispanic Heritage Month outside the Pentagon.
Charles S. Abell said this is DoD's first effort to link an educational event - - the symposium -- with a special observance program -- the luncheon observance of Hispanic American Heritage Month -- and to do the entire thing outside the Pentagon. With nearly 60 percent of its population Hispanic, San Antonio is the nation's ninth largest populated city with the fifth largest Hispanic population, which played a role in the city's selection for the event. There are also five DoD installations in the surrounding area and seven Hispanic serving institutions.
Most Americans don't know much about the more than 460-year history of Hispanics in North America or their contributions to American culture, said Abell, assistant secretary of defense for force management policy.
"Perhaps that deficiency is due to the fact that the national Hispanic population is clustered, half in California and Texas and 76 percent in the West or South," Abell told the audience of the early morning symposium on Improving Hispanic Representation and Access to Information and Opportunity. "Or, perhaps it's because the role of Hispanics is rarely or poorly covered in most textbooks used in our nation's schools."
He said no matter the reason, that's why National Hispanic Heritage Month and the DoD luncheon observance are important -- they raise the information level of all citizens regarding the contributions of Hispanics to the nation's history and its defense. The observance also serves to inform Americans about contemporary issues of concern to Hispanics.
"Hispanics often lack the needed information regarding opportunities for growth and success in American society," said the former attack helicopter pilot. "This is often stereotypically attributed to linguistic and cultural divides. But we know that Hispanics have experienced institutional and individual discrimination in education, employment, health care delivery and financial services."
Hispanics comprise the only ethnic group with less representation in federal employment than in the total national civilian labor force. Abell said federal agencies have been trying to correct the problem for more than 30 years with special emphasis programs such as 16-point programs, Spanish-speaking programs, programs for persons of Spanish origin and Hispanic employment programs. They've little to show for their efforts, he asserted.
"Hispanics were 4 percent of the DoD civilian workforce in comparison with 6.4 percent in the national civilian labor force when these (federal efforts) began in 1970," Abell noted. "In 2002, Hispanics comprise 6 percent of the DoD civilian workforce in comparison to over 12 percent of the national civilian workforce.
"That limited growth of Hispanics in the DoD workforce is part of why we're here today," he said. "We want to inform people about civilian and military career opportunities in DoD and to discuss Hispanic employment issues. We also want to review and develop strategies for resolving those issues and overcoming barriers to employment and to celebrate the past and current contributions of Hispanics woven into our nation's fabric."
During an interview beforehand, Abell pointed out that DoD has observed Hispanic American Heritage Month for many years, but in the Pentagon. "This year, we wanted to bring the Pentagon to the people," he said.
He said he hopes the observance in years ahead will be taken to other cities around the country. "The Pentagon is hard to get into, especially after Sept. 11, and we can't share our message, vision and our partnership very easily from inside the Pentagon, so we want to come out to where the people are," Abell said.
"We want to send a message to Hispanics that says we're hiring," he said. "So we want to make sure the Hispanic folks understand that we're here and have opportunities to offer, and we really want them to come join us. We also want to be the civilian employer of choice for those interested in great opportunities and great development."
For young Hispanics who are contemplating military service, Abell said, "The military is a great opportunity for young men and women. We've got good pay, good allowances, good educational benefits and will instill great values and return these young men and women to their communities better citizens."