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National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002

General Says Hispanics Underrepresented in Military; Services Trying to Attract More
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Bernardo C. Negrete has a message for young Hispanic Americans: "The military is a perfect place to build your future!"

"I think I'm an example. I'm a Cuban refugee who came to this country when I was 10 years old and flunked the sixth grade because I couldn't speak English," said Negrete, an Army brigadier general who speaks unaccented English. "So you can make a difference, and the system can make a difference for you. The key is, you've got to make a difference."

Negrete is the deputy commanding general of Army Recruiting Command West, which covers everything west of the Mississippi River and South Korea.

His remarks came during an interview here at the Department of Defense's first observance of Hispanic American Heritage Month outside the Pentagon. Charles Abell, assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, hosted the symposium and luncheon as part of DoD's ongoing initiatives to increase Hispanic representation and to improve access to information and opportunities.

The event was attended by Hispanic serving institutions and their students, area high schools, DoD services and components from throughout the country, local and national Hispanic organizations, community organizations, city, county and other government organizations.

But Negrete thinks having the event away from Washington gives it more impact. However, he added, "It's unfortunate that in this day and age we still have to convince people that everybody is equal.

"The military probably has the best melding of tolerance of anywhere in our society and I'm proud of that," he continued. "It's good for the military and society at large because so many of our kids get out and go back into society and tend to learn from their military service and carry that learning with them."

Emphasizing that the military doesn't reward anyone for where their parents came from, the one-star general said, "The military is going to reward you for what you do, who you are and how you do it. As long as you know those rules, you've got an equal chance. It doesn't matter if you're Hispanic, Chinese or from any other ethnic group."

Negrete runs the Army program that aims to attract more Hispanics to serve. "The Army has an underrepresented Hispanic population," he noted. "When I started this program about 15 months ago, we were about 8 percent. We're about 10 percent now. We've made a significant improvement (by) going after Hispanics in a manner we've never done before. We're giving our recruiters goals to meet in order to bring the Hispanic population of the Army to par with the general population of the country."

The Army's plan seems to be working well and calls for achieving parity by 2006, Negrete said. "This year our goal was 12 percent and we hit 13 percent. Next year, our goal was 13 percent — I just raised it to 14 percent."

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