By Brig. Gen. Ricardo Aponte, USAF (Ret)
The Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance was created by retired senior military officers in 2016 to highlight the lack of Hispanic generals, admirals, and DoD Senior Executive Service staff. HVLA’s motto is “Our military leaders should mirror the face of America.” To date, no Hispanic officer has reached four-star rank since Gen. Richard E. Cavazos, USA, retired in 1984. Very few have attained the three-star rank since then.
HVLA has approached the problem from different angles since its inception. We started with a letter-writing campaign to the services regarding the lack of Hispanics in the senior military ranks. Then we established lines of communications with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Our quest to inform and educate was hampered by the lack of accurate promotion data available to the public. Nevertheless, our founders persevered and expanded their sphere of contacts to include partner civic organizations and active-duty working groups searching for diversity solutions.
In support of these engagements, HVLA has examined the lack of Hispanics in the senior ranks and has reached several conclusions.
While DoD continues to focus much of its efforts on recruiting more Hispanics, recruitment is not the real problem. The major problem is retention—keeping Hispanics in the force long enough to enable them to be promoted. For Hispanics that choose to stay in, promotion opportunities have been limited principally because of inadequate career assignment paths and lack of appropriate military education. They lack mentoring on assignments and professional military education needed to be promotable. Consequently, Hispanics are not rewarded with advancement in rank, selection to professional education courses, and assignment to promotable leadership positions.
To better carry our message forward and help DoD address these issues, HVLA has recently formalized its vision and established four pillars of engagement.
2. Recruiting: HVLA supports the department’s Hispanic recruiting efforts and recommends continued emphasis to address known problem areas such as military sexual assault and harassment, and inadequate English language skills.
3. Retention: The services should study why Hispanics and other underrepresented minorities choose to cut their careers short by conducting more focused exit interviews and inform DoD leadership of the results.
4. Mentoring: DoD should formalize mentoring opportunities for Hispanics and capitalize on existing mentoring efforts of ROCKS, Inc., a minority-serving organization in the U.S. Army, and the Association of Naval Service Officers (ANSO), an independent organization established to serve the needs of Navy and Coast Guard minority members.
5. Meritocracy: HVLA is concerned that Hispanics are not achieving the same amount of success in their careers as other minorities. Combat arms, the surface naval fleet, the submarine force, and pilot training have usually been reserved for others.
The HVLA vision and the four pillars will never be satisfied unless DoD leadership assumes ownership of the problem and commitment for the solutions. DoD must immediately establish a department-wide project to grow Hispanic representation at all levels of leadership and responsibilities. The services should commit to monitor the success of individual Hispanic hyper-performers at all rank levels and provide mentoring and opportunities for professional education and advancement.
Remember that the force should mirror the face of America. Without an adequate commitment by the DoD, the future of our military forces is in jeopardy. Because failure is not an option, HVLA members commit not to let that happen.
Brig. Gen. Ricardo Aponte is a MOAA member and President of the Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization of senior leaders, military and civilian, committed to overcoming the profound lack of Hispanic diversity and inclusion throughout the senior ranks of the DoD.