Some might opine the lack of Latino inclusion is a new trend, and perhaps over time the number of Hispanic Flag and General Officers will approach parity with the total number of Hispanic officers serving in the military. This is a fallacy. Consider this chronology from the past two decades:
In 2000 the DoD Senior Advisory Council for Hispanic Issues (DACHI) was established by the Assistant Secretary of Defense in recognition of the longstanding (dating back to the 1990s) under-representation of Latinos, especially in the senior ranks. Unfortunately, DACHI was terminated less than 2 years later when a new administration took office, so no progress was made.
Colonel Lisa Firmin, a highly decorated combat veteran and the Air Force’s most senior Latina at the time, wrote a seminal Air War College paper documenting the profound under-representation of Hispanic officers in the senior ranks. Her research project was disseminated to AF leaders, including the Secretary and Chief of Staff. Today, nearly two decades after Col Firmin wrote her expose, there are only three active-duty Hispanic Generals in the AF—all three are 1-stars, the lowest of the four General officer ranks. That’s 3 Hispanics out of nearly 300 active-duty AF Generals. Even though the number of Hispanic officers has more than tripled to nearly 8% of the officer corps, Hispanic representation among AF Generals is an unbelievably low 0.4%. This defines INSTITUTIONALIZED DISCRIMINATION.
In 2003 the Defense Business Board’s “Task Force on Increasing Diversity in the DoD’s Flag and Senior Executive Ranks” stated: “Recognizing the fact that Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the US and that their representation is relatively small, there is an important need for further emphasis and energy in the recruitment/accession, purposeful development, retention and promotion of Hispanic/Latino military officers.” Seventeen years of data indicate these reasonable and common-sense Task Force recommendations were never implemented.
In 2007 Major General Freddie Valenzuela, the most senior Hispanic in the US Army during part of his time in uniform, summarized Hispanic officer representation (in the Army) in his book No Greater Love: The Lives and Times of Hispanic Soldiers: “My guess is that although we have come a long way, we will do no better for the next 232 years, because the strategic plan on diversity is all talk and no action.”
In 2009 Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified: “Because we had prioritized on African-Americans, we were nowhere with Hispanics—nowhere.” The evidence demonstrates that no action was taken in response to this revelation, even though Navy Admiral Mullen was the highest ranking member in the entire Armed Forces when he made this incredibly frank yet surprising admission during testimony to the Military Leadership Diversity Commission.
In 2011 the Military Leadership Diversity Commission report, commissioned by the US Congress, concluded "the Armed Forces have not been successful in developing a continuous stream of top leaders as demographically diverse as the nation they serve." Findings were even more evident among Hispanics than any other minority.
In 2016 HVLA built a national coalition and sent an advocacy letter, signed by 26 members of Congress, to the President of the United States and to DoD. The letter advocated for improved diversity in the senior officer corps. Neither the President or DoD provided a response to this letter (see Campaign Strategy to review the July 18, 2016 letter), nor were any actions taken with regard to the letter’s recommendations.
2018 - 2020:
HVLA has worked with Congress and DoD for years to raise awareness of the profound under-representation of Hispanics at the executive level. Their most recent letter (see below) was signed by 24 senior-ranking Hispanic military members and petitioned the Secretary of Defense and Service Secretaries to take action—an unprecedented outreach by Hispanic veterans with unparalleled, first-hand insight. This unique cadre of Latina/o military members have served well over 7 collective centuries of distinguished military service to our nation — and yet, more than 13 months later, these concerned veterans still await a DoD response to their petition. Congressman Gilbert Cisneros subsequently sent a supporting letter to SecDef and other leaders (see Campaign Strategy to see Congressman Cisneros’ May 7, 2019 letter).
Number of days HVLA and the Hispanic community writ large have been waiting for a DoD response to their letter (see below): The Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Service Secretaries have not replied to HVLA’s letter nor have they taken any meaningful action since the letter was sent in April 2019 (click on each page to expand).
CONCLUSION: The evidence is irrefutable—the DoD has been well aware of severe Hispanic officer under-representation in the senior ranks for decades. Yet they have not acknowledged the glaring disparities, much less taken action required to resolve the injustice. Even more alarming is that after several years of HVLA outreach to the DoD, the DoD has thus far chosen not to engage with HVLA or implement recommendations on how to actually drive cultural change, eliminate barriers and biases, and achieve a true meritocracy. HVLA has proposed multiple solutions, including developing a new mentoring and leadership program and establishing a senior defense committee for Latinos in the Services. Regrettably, the DoD has chosen not to act which has led to an even steeper decline in Latino representation in the senior ranks. This decades-long record of inaction and disengagement should concern all Americans, inside and outside of the military. This is a disservice to the Hispanic community, a disservice to the Armed Forces, and a disservice to America. The solution is simple--parity at the executive level (Flag Officer, General Officer and Senior Executive Service), consistent with the ever-increasing level of Hispanic representation across the civil servant and commissioned officer corps, and congruent with merit principles. Now is the time for decisive action and leadership, not more studies and failed initiatives. The time has come to eliminate institutionalized discrimination in our military, once and for all. America must harness the skills and talents of all its citizens—the power of all. This is a test our Armed Forces, indeed our nation, cannot afford to fail.