Hispanic Heritage Month: Uniting diversity through celebration

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- As you know, many of the Airmen serving our nation are of Hispanic heritage who have courageously answered our nation's call to serve. The U.S. Air Force, and our country, is stronger today because of their service. So for those of you who have family member or friends currently serving, let me begin by saying "thank you." We are honored by your sacrifice and love for our country.

National Hispanic Heritage Month dates back to 1968's Hispanic Heritage week and was expanded to a full 30 days by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. The observance begins September 15 to coincide with the date in 1821 that five Latin American countries declared their independence from Spain: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence September 16 and 18, respectively.

The Department of Defense's theme for Hispanic Heritage Month is "Diversity United, Building America's Future Today." This theme serves as a reminder to pause, reflect, honor and celebrate our country's strength: Diversity, the X factor that makes us different and so much more capable than most every other nation. No other nation can boast the wondrous variety of cultures, ethnicities and religions practiced and celebrated in our nation. The Hispanic Heritage is just one of many ribbons of strength that make up the American tapestry. Through our American X factor, we are a nation made stronger by the contribution of many.

Hispanics have much to be proud of in military history. Hispanics make up 11 percent of the active duty military and nearly 17 percent of new recruits, according to a DOD study. From the Civil War to now, 44 Hispanics have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Since 9/11, hundreds of Hispanics have been awarded Silver and Bronze Stars, while thousands have earned the Purple Heart. During an unprecedented period in our nation's history, we are driven by more than Air Force values. Our roots begin at home with family values. We're loyal, motivated and patriotic. And we are writing the next chapter of our proud history.

Over 50 million Hispanics reside in the U.S., making 16 percent of the population. By 2050, that percentage will grow to 30 percent. By sheer numbers alone, the prosperity of our economy, the readiness of our workforce and the strength of our national security will increasingly be tied to this country's youth, to include its Hispanic youth. The kinds of adults we shape our children into will shape the kind of society America will be in the 21st century.

The U.S. President published a proclamation on September 14 in honor of Hispanic Heritage month. In part, it reads "The nation's Hispanic citizens have led movements that pushed our country closer to realizing the democratic ideals of America's founding documents, and they have served courageously as members of our Armed Forces to defend those ideals at home and abroad."

It goes on to say, "Whether we trace our roots to those who came here on the Mayflower, who settled the Southwest centuries ago, or who joined the American family more recently, we share a common belief in the enduring promise of America--the promise that regardless of where we come from or what we look like, each of us can make it if we try. During National Hispanic Heritage Month, as we celebrate the successes of the Hispanic community, let us reaffirm our commitment to extending that promise to all Americans."

I thank you for your dedicated service. And I bid you all Godspeed.