Hispanic service members are the nation’s fastest-growing population of U.S. military members — making up about 16% of all active duty military — but are finding themselves shut out from high-ranking leadership positions, particularly in the U.S. Air Force.
Just 2% of the generals and admirals in the nation’s armed forces are Hispanic, according to the Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance. Latino leadership in the U.S. military is small, making up only 8% of the officer corps and 2% of general/flag officers, according to a 2019 report by the Congressional Research Service.
Active Bronx servicemembers in various branches told the Bronx Times that military service was a “favorable” path to citizenship, as a year of honorable service can expedite an immigrant’s naturalization. But racism, gender discrimination, as well as lack of accommodations for non-Native speakers with education and language barriers has long-stunted Hispanic airmen who aim to climb the paramilitary ranks.
Basic airmen —who start with a pay of $1,833 per month and want to make military service a career — say they feel overlooked for positions like senior airmen and staff sergeant, where pay ranges from $2,610 to $3,704 a month with 12 years’ service.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is now seeking an in-depth investigation into the role of Latinos in the U.S. Air Force infrastructure, requesting an internal review to identify barriers holding Latino officers from rising to the senior ranks of general officer. A letter signed by members of the caucus including U.S. Rep Adriano Espaillat, implored Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall to respond to their request by Jan. 11, 2023.
Latinos are about 19% of the U.S. population but currently account for 5% of the Air Force, the military branch with the lowest percentage of Hispanic recruits.
When the Bronx Times reached out to the Air Force for comment on Friday, they said they hadn’t been made aware of the letter. Air Force officials declined to comment on the letter, instead stating that Kendall would respond to the Congressional Hispanic Congress directly.
Two Latino Air Force recruiters from the Bronx told the Times that the Air Force has ratcheted up efforts to increase its growth of Latinos in the workforce, with a concentration of recruitment in the the Hispanic-majority borough.
Earlier this year, the Air Force had an internal reckoning with antiquated policies affecting the advancement of women by scrapping discriminatory gender-biased rules after a wide-ranging inquiry, the service’s undersecretary said on March 3.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) hope for a similar review of policies systemically affecting Hispanics ability to attain high rank in the corps.
“Latinos represent 17% of active-duty service members in the U.S. military, and as we recently recognized Veterans Day, we honor the service of those who have worn our nation’s uniform with honor, patriotism, and bravery to defend Democracy here at home and around the world,” said Espaillat, CHC vice chair of Diversity and Inclusion. “There are currently more than eight million Latino veterans, yet the numbers are dismal when considering the level of representation in leadership roles, particularly within the U.S. Air Force.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are nearly 1.3 million Latino veterans or about 8% of the overall veteran population. By 2045, this figure is projected to reach 12%.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes