His View: Opinion on Hispanic Americans in the Senior Ranks of the Armed Forces, By William D. Rodriguez

By William D. Rodriguez
Rear Admiral, United States Navy, Retired
Board Member, Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance (HVLA)
Past President, Association of Naval Services Officers (ANSO)

The continuing focus on Diversity and Inclusion has become more of a “Race issue” and a “Gender issue” than an “Ethnicity issue”. The Hispanic American population has grown to be the largest minority group in this country, and yet our Armed Forces still do not reflect “the face of the nation” regarding the Hispanic American population. This is particularly true in the Flag and General Officer, senior officer and senior enlisted ranks. Like what was done for the African Americans over forty-five years ago regarding Affirmative Action, there should be a renewed focus on the ethnic communities, specifically the Hispanic American Community. Furthermore, there should be an in-depth analysis of the demographics of Hispanic Americans in the Armed Forces and specifically in its senior ranks, and the DoD and the Services should take an approach towards tracking and mentoring of Hispanic Americans to advocate for them, ensure they are fully qualified for promotion into the senior ranks, and are given a fair and objective opportunity for promotion without prejudice or discrimination.

The issues concerning prejudice, discrimination, diversity and inclusion will probably not go away in our lifetime. However, the issue concerning the extremely low number of Hispanic Americans in the senior ranks is the result of a total lack of leadership awareness. If we look towards the leadership within the Armed Forces for closer mentoring of Hispanic Americans, strive for the highest meritocracy and push for positions of the highest visibility for Hispanic Americans, then we might make some well-founded headway. We need to examine who is coming up in the ranks and strongly advocate for them. DoD and the respective Services should analyze the reasons why highly qualified Hispanic Americans were not promoted, understand why others were promoted, including possible bias, prejudice, and discrimination, and then make that analysis known.

It is difficult to understand that of all the highly qualified Hispanic Americans who are serving at the O-6 level in our Armed Forces, that very few, if any, “meet the requirements” of the precepts for the Flag and General Officer promotion boards and are not promoted to Flag or General Officer.There are several O-6s whose records and performance in tough leadership positions show that they are above their peers and meet the requirements of the promotion board precepts, and yet, they are not selected for Flag or General Officer. There is no question that the importance of meritocracy, rather than the importance of any racial, ethnic or diversity label, is understood in most organizations. Is there an issue of subjectivity, or objectivity, on the promotion board? Is there unconscious discrimination and bias at the more senior promotion boards?

Lastly, the retention concerns of senior Hispanic American officers and enlisted, and why the promotion zone pools contain a small number, if any, of Hispanic Americans should be analyzed. Many Hispanic American officers and enlisted are retiring at their first opportunity thereby reducing the pool of qualified Hispanic American officers and enlisted who could possibly be promoted into the higher ranks and therefore reflect the “leadership face of the nation”. We must work on retaining our best qualified Hispanic Americans past their 20-year point.

The recruitment of Hispanic American men and women is no longer a matter of equity, but rather a significant necessity given the rapid growth of this segment of the population. We must continue to exhibit the inherent leadership qualities in continuing to promote the importance of diversity and inclusion; eliminating prejudice; focusing on eliminating the ethnic, racial and gender gaps; promoting mentoring; advocating those qualified Hispanic American officers for the “right’ jobs; promoting Hispanic Americans to Flag and General Officer without prejudice; supporting recruiting the best-qualified candidate; and supporting increased education of our local youth.

William D. Rodriguez is a board member of the Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance, a member of Mission: Readiness, Vice Chairman of the board of directors for Vocational Solutions in Hendersonville, NC, a member of MOAA, and he is a volunteer for the Henderson County (NC) Youth Leadership Program. He is the former National President of the Association of Naval Services Officers; former member of the East San Diego County DEFCOMM, San Diego Foundation Science and Technology Working Group, San Diego Leadership Forum, AFCEA, ASNE and the advisory committee to The Citadel’s School of Science and Math. For fun, he currently sings with several chorus groups in Flat Rock and Hendersonville, NC.

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