The Army is increasing ties to the Hispanic community in the aftermath of a report that found cultural beliefs and Army neglect are keeping the number of Hispanic-American officers at “critically underrepresented” numbers.
The report by an Army colonel found that Hispanics’ close family ties and propensity to go to work as teen-agers were a hindrance to embracing the well-traveled life of an Army officer.
On the Army side, Col. Hector Topete concluded, the service is not doing sufficient outreach in California and Texas Hispanic neighborhoods to sell a career in land combat. One recommendation was to assign more Hispanic officers as role models to ROTC commands.
Col. Topete said in an interview that the Army in the past year has reached out to Hispanics in the same ways it communicated with blacks in the 1970s and ‘80s.
The colonel himself is an example. After writing his report as a military fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, he is now a ROTC commander in Monterey, Calif.
“In my short six months here, I’ve seen some improvements in getting the young interested in the ROTC program,” he said. “I’ve seen some, wavering on whether to stay in ROTC or not, decide to stay.”
He said ROTC also has formed an affiliation with a Hispanic association of colleges and universities. The alliance is similar, he said, to the ROTC setting up shop at predominantly black colleges.
In his report released last year, Col. Topete concluded:
“Although the Hispanic-American population is growing, and about to become the largest minority group in the country, Hispanic-Americans in the U.S. Army’s officer corps are critically underrepresented.
“Although Hispanic-Americans demonstrate the highest propensity for military service, have the highest proportion of Medal of Honor recipients, have some of the highest retention rates in the Army and represent 28 percent of all the names on the Vietnam Memorial they are conspicuously absent from the Army’s officer corps.”
All four military branches acknowledge they lack sufficient representation of Hispanics. But it is the Army, under Secretary Louis Caldera (a Hispanic-American and West Point graduate) that has made recruiting Latinos a top priority.
The Army boasts an outstanding record of inducting black officers. Its officer corps is 11 percent black, compared with a black U.S. population of 12 percent. But while Hispanics make up 11.4 percent of the population, their representation has stayed mired below 4 percent among Army officers. Eighty percent of Army officers are white.
The reasons are complex, concluded Col. Topete, who interviewed focus groups and senior Army officials for his report, “Underrepresentation of Hispanic -Americans in the U.S. Army’s officer corps.”
On the cultural side, he found impediments to service. He said Hispanic teen-agers have a higher high school dropout rate, in part because of a desire to go to work. They also prefer to stay close to their families.
Hispanic women also are discouraged from joining.
“There appears to be a cultural block, within Hispanic families, to the idea of women going into the Army,” Col. Topete wrote. “It has to do with their parents perception that the Army is ‘not a respectable place for a woman to be.’ “
“Several participants surmise that this attitude transfers from the way Hispanic parents view certain Latin-American militaries and their association with dictatorships, human rights abuses and so on.”
But Hispanics are willing to join, Col. Topete said. He urged the Army to exploit the community’s patriotism.
“Overwhelmingly, Hispanic-Americans are thankful for what this country has done for them, consider it their country and express a genuine intent to fight for this country if needed,” his report states.
His research found that the other three military branches seem to be doing a better job of attracting candidates.
While West Point’s student body is 4.4 percent Hispanic, the Naval and Air Force academies are 7 percent. And, while the Army’s ROTC is 2.9 percent Hispanic, the Navy and Air Force are 8.4 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively. The Army derives about 70 percent of officers from ROTC, an officer training program for college students.
“Hispanic-American youth at the high school and college levels know little or nothing about the officer side of the Army,” he wrote. “Although they have some knowledge about enlisting in the Army, very few high school students realize that they do not have to put off college if they go into the Army as an ROTC or West Point cadet.”
“When asked to rate the Army as compared with other services, the majority of participants rated the Army lowest.”