Hispanic Heritage Month
During National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize Hispanic Americans for helping to shape our national character and strengthen our communities. The warmth and vitality of the Hispanic culture are great gifts to America and are part of the unique fabric of our country.
Hispanic Americans have enriched our Nation through contributions in many professions and fields, including education, law, government, business, science, sports, and the arts. Since our Nation's founding, Hispanic Americans have served bravely in the United States Armed Forces, earning more than 3 dozen Medals of Honor and numerous distinguished military decorations for their leadership, courage, and patriotism. Hispanic Americans have sacrificed in defense of this Nation's freedom, serving in every major American conflict.
Today, Hispanic Americans continue to answer the call to duty in our Armed Forces, National Guard, and Reserve units. They continue a proud legacy as they put their boots on the ground to stand watch on the front lines of freedom.
The number of Hispanic Americans in uniform is growing faster than any other group. More than 35 million people identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino on the 2000 Census, making them the single largest minority group in America. Correspondingly, more than 125,000 Hispanic Americans have proudly answered the call to duty to serve in the Armed Forces. Hispanics now represent almost 10 percent of our military, the largest numbers in U.S. history.
Throughout American history, the Hispanic community has contributed to the defense of our nation in extraordinary measures. In fact, there’s a street just west of Chicago that many Hispanic Americans have called home for decades. It is a humble area, just shy of two blocks long. But that street has contributed dozens of people to military service – possibly more than any other street of comparable size anywhere in the country -- 84 men from 26 families – who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Formerly “Second Street” – this street is now known as “Hero Street USA.”
Hispanic Americans have proudly answered the call to duty and put their boots on the ground in every major American military conflict. They have contributed more than their share of heroes to shape our military structure and strength:
•Bernardo de Galvez was a Spanish Army officer, who came to the aide of the embattled Continental Army. He led his frequently outnumbered troops to many victories against the British. It was his service… and others like him… that enabled the Founding Fathers to craft the constitution and mold this nation from infancy.
•During the Civil War, David Glasgow Farragut, son of Revolutionary War hero Jorge Farragut of Spain, won fame as a Union hero by blocking Southern Ports. Congress honored that courage and valor by naming him the Navy’s first four-star Admiral. Today, a statue honoring his many accomplishments remains standing tall in Farragut Square, in Washington, D.C.
•The first Puerto Rico National Guard was organized by Luis Esteves, who climbed the chain of command to become a Brigadier General.
•Private Silvestre Herrera’s one man assault on German positions resulted in the capture of two enemy strongholds back in 1945. President Truman personally presented Private Herrera with the Medal of Honor.
As we speak, thousands of men and women of Hispanic Heritage are placing their boots on the ground in more than 120 countries around the world in the Global War on Terrorism. They are bringing freedom to people in other countries, making major sacrifices, and risking their lives to bring justice to terrorists and lay a foundation for a sustainable peace.
Let me tell you about Sgt. Diego Barros. Sgt. Barros is a vehicle commander from a counterinsurgency platoon, part of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. His patrol was struck with an improvised explosive device on a routine mission from Logistical Support Area Anaconda to Forward Operating Base Paliwoda. The device detonated between vehicles, but the Soldiers were unharmed in the blast. Sgt. Barros was a veteran of a prior deployment Iraq and had prepared his Soldiers for what to expect.
Specialists Elizabeth and Juanita Rodriguez are twin sisters who are both stationed at Camp Chapman, Afghanistan, during their deployment for Operation Enduring Freedom VI. The Rodriguez sisters are both National Guard Automated Logistics Specialists with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 142nd Mechanized Infantry Unit out of Lubbock, Texas.
Staff Sgt. Jose R. Jimenez, is a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist for C Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Hunter Army Airfield. Sgt Jimenez has gone from the combat zone to the boxing ring, battling through increasing levels of competition from January through March. He earned a Gold Medal in the 2006 All Army Championships at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., an individual and team Gold Medal at the 2006 Armed Forces Championships at Naval Station Ventura, Calif., and competed in the 2006 U.S. Army Boxing National Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Sgt. 1st Class Gary Villalobos of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his gallantry in combat while outnumbered by insurgents June 7, 2005 in Tal Afar, Iraq. During a squadron operation, Villalobos was tasked to follow and assist an Iraqi Army platoon and two members of the 1st Brigade Military Transition Team – one being Lt. Col. Terrence Crowe. Villalobos, Crowe and the Iraqi Soldiers came under heavy attack from hand grenades, an improvised explosive device, rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire. Crowe was hit numerous times in the lower abdomen, and fell to the ground 10 feet in front of Villalobos. Villalobos reported the downed officer and returned fire. He called for armor support and killed at least one insurgent with a grenade. Villalobos risked his life to evacuate Crowe to a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, preventing insurgents from capturing his body. In earning the Silver Star, Villalobos attained one of the Army’s highest valor awards.
These individuals represent the commitment to the values we hold dear - loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. As the U.S. Army works to protect our nation and advance freedom abroad, we are grateful to all of the brave men and women who serve our Nation, and to their families.
America’s greatest asset is its people – and the diversity of its people. The U.S. Army is a mosaic of the world’s many cultures and we must take the time to honor and respect the rich heritage and outstanding contributions that help make this country great.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month we recognize the vibrant Hispanic influences in so much of our nation’s art, fashion, cuisine, music and faith. But I especially wish to honor and celebrate the Hispanic American Soldiers who, with their commitment to family, faith and country – most of all country – help make our military great.
To all of you who have answered the Call to Duty and have your Boots on the Ground by serving this nation with pride, thank you for your service and your sacrifice.