August 4, 2000
By Daniel Muñoz
Staff La Prensa San Diego
It was a typical San Diego
afternoon in the middle of July. Driving to the entranceway of
San Diego Hyatt Regency, on the Bay. It was soon apparent that
this was not going to be your every day kind of interview. Louis
Caldera, Secretary of the United States Army, was not one that
would be allowed to travel incognito. This was obvious walking
into the main lobby, with the sharply dressed Agents standing
at the ready, scrutinizing all who walked into the lobby.
Being the only Chicano a lobby full of White Anglo tourist a twinge of apprehension aroused within me as the Agent quickly spoke into his cell phone. Two or three other `suits' approached. He smiled and motioned me towards the escalator. Camera in hand and tape recorder ready, I arrived at the 3rd floor only to be accosted by another Secret Agent and taken to a uniform Army Officer. Army uniforms I could understand. I now knew it was La Prensa San Diego they were looking for!
"This way Mr. Munoz, the Secretary will be with you in a moment", said the Officer. We entered a fairly large conference room with eight places set (8 glasses of water, note pads, and a pen). "I am surprised" I said, "I thought this was going to be a `one on one' just La Prensa San Diego and the Army Secretary". "It is said the Lt. No one else will be here. The Secretary will be with you in a moment." Twenty minutes later the Secretary of the Army entered. After a few moments of pleasantries ...Our brief interview began:
Mr. Secretary one of the questions I have is just how many Hispanos are serving in the officer and enlisted Ranks?
Caldera: The manning levels of Hispanics currently are about 8 percent enlisted and 3.5 percent in the officer ranks. When I came on board as the Secretary of the Army there were only two Hispanic General Officers. We now have four General Officers on duty with two more that have been selected and are now waiting to have their Bars pinned on. We shall have six Hispanic General officers very shortly.
What is the Army doing to improve the recruitment of Hispanics into the Army?
Caldera: It appears that the Navy and Marine Corp are doing a far better job of attracting the Latino youth.
In many ways the promotional campaign put on by the Marines is especially good it appeals to the "macho' image held by our youth. To address the shortage of Hispanics in the Army, we have addressed the types and forms of advertising we have been doing. We are increasing the quantity of advertising aimed at Hispanic Americans. We have recently signed on a group from San Antonio Texas, "Cafe Creativo" that is now a part of the team that is going to do Army advertising. There will be an increase of Hispanic advertising in our general market and in our specialty advertising. We not only want to improve the image of what it is to be a soldier but to let them know that THE ARMY IS A HIGH TECH SERVICE.
We not only want to recruit for the enlisted ranks but also to increase the number of Hispanic in the officer's ranks.
Since I became the Secretary, we have doubled the number of Hispanic of first year students at West Point. Two years ago it was around 40-50 Hispanic Cadets per year. Now it's around 100 cadets per year.
In San Diego there is difficulty in getting recommended to West Point. As I understand it, to get into West Point you need to be recommended by your Congressman. This presents a problem when in the entire county you only have one Democratic Congressman and all the rest is Republican. I am sure you know that the Latino-Mexican American community in San Diego area is 650,000 plus. The majority is Mexican American. They are in the majority registered Democrats. I suspect there is just a small reluctance, for political reasons, on the part of our congressional delegation to recommend Mexican American-Latinos to West Point. The other way to get appointed is for your father to be a retired or active duty officer, preferably of the Army. As you know there are very few of us that were able to break the discrimination barriers to be selected for the Officer ranks in the past.
Caldera: There are more ways to get recommended to West Point. In Washington, we have members of our top staff lobbying with the Congressmen to seek out Hispanics in their districts to nominate for the Academy. We have seen the numbers increase every year. There are ways to get recommended if you participate in R.O.T.C. in your schools. I recommend that any one that is interested to contact our recruiting offices. If you meet the qualifications and you want to be part of the Army Team, we will find a way to get you in.
To us back here in the home districts and with no Army Base near by, we are getting confusing signals as to what the mission or form of the "new" Army" is about. It seems the Congress is forever cutting the force down. There appears to be less money for weapons, manpower, or, the implements necessary to carry out a successful military campaign to victory.
Caldera: In some ways the means for carrying out a mission have changed. We are far more computerized; our tools for waging war are more sophisticated, and more powerful. The soldier of today has to be far more sophisticated to handle the weapons of today. Our mission has evolved with the changing political realities. We are far less to be the peacekeeper for the whole world. We need to count on our allies and friends to help us put out the various fires that keep breaking out. Our Army of today has to be prepared to render humanitarian aid wherever it is needed.
(Our interview ended on that note. The Secretary issued an invitation for La Prensa to visit Washington D.C. We invited him to visit San Diego and speak once again with us.)