National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002
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National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002
Army Celebrates Diversity with Hispanic Heritage Month
By Courtney Brooks
Army News Service

WASHINGTON — There is a street just west of Chicago that many Hispanic Americans have called home for decades. It is a humble one-and-a-half block stretch, but far from ordinary, said the keynote speaker at a Pentagon Hispanic Heritage Month ceremony.

The street has contributed more men to military service than any street of comparable size in the United States - 84 men from 26 families serving in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Formerly Second Street, it's now referred to as "Hero Street USA."

Michael Montelongo, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller, addressed a full-capacity audience Sept. 18 in the Pentagon auditorium during the commencement of the Army's annual Hispanic Heritage celebration.

Photo by Michelle Bard
Members of SOL Y RUMBA entertain a group of soldiers and Department of the Army employees with traditional Hispanic music during an encore performance. They played as part of an Army Hispanic Heritage Month commemoration at the Pentagon Sept. 18. Click on photo for resolution image

The month-long observance began Sept. 15 and lasts through Oct. 15. This year's commemoration has been designated, "Strength in Unity, Faith and Diversity."

Montelongo is the most senior Hispanic member of the Air Force and a former Army officer.

Tens of thousands of Hispanics have demonstrated deep commitments to defend the U.S. and its principles, according to Montelongo.

He stressed the importance of education supplemented with opportunity, Hispanic contributions to military service and ways Americans may seek out innovative ways to enfranchise Hispanic Americans.

"It's opportunity that has brought us here today and what will take us where we need to be tomorrow," he said.

Although Montelongo said he came from humble beginnings in the lower East Side of Manhattan, he explained his parents made great sacrifices for him to attend Jesuit high school and college at West Point.

"Education when coupled with opportunity is certainly the key to success," Montelongo said. "The military is a great place to seek, find and achieve that success — many Hispanic Americans have been drawn to military service for that very reason."

Out of the approximately 4,300 Hispanic Americans serving on active duty in the military, 40 have received the esteemed Medal of Honor. This is more than any other demographic segment, he said.

"Hispanic Americans have contributed gallantly to the success of a wonderful nation," Montelongo said. Their service reflects a genuine commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy from the American Revolution to the latest conflict, Operation Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle, he added.

There are currently nine Hispanic appointees and twelve general officers in military service, along with considerable Hispanic influence in American culture, Montelongo said. He said the horse, guitar and mission schools are among the many influences that Hispanics have contributed to the United States.

Still, Montelongo worries about the lack of representation of this minority in all levels of society. Although this group is the largest growing demographic and composes a significant percentage of the population, the group only comprises slightly above one percent of the top government positions.

He concluded by offering a remedy to under-representation by encouraging members of the audience to deepen their competence and seize opportunity. This builds the credibility and self-confidence necessary to facilitate change, Montelongo said.

"Take every opportunity to upscale, upgrade yourselves," he said. "Each day and every day we have an extraordinary opportunity — the gift of life."

At the end of Montelongo's speech, the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army Joel B. Hudson presented him with a commemorative plaque in the shape of the Pentagon

Members of the audience also enjoyed a lively performance by Latin rhythms band, SOL Y RUMBA, who sang "Guantanamera," along with other traditional Spanish songs.

The Pentagon ceremony was sponsored by the Office of the Administrative Assistant Equal Employment Opportunity office.

To honor Hispanic heritage and observe Hispanic Heritage Month, Army posts worldwide have scheduled guest speakers, ethnic meals, musical concerts, art displays and various cultural events, an EEO official said.

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