WASHINGTON (AFPS) --
National Hispanic Heritage Month gives the Defense Department an opportunity to recognize the significant contributions made by the nation's Hispanic-Americans, said Stephanie Miller, DOD's Diversity Management director.
The observance, which begins Sept. 15 and runs to Oct. 15, also provides the department an opportunity to reflect on diversity and inclusiveness, Miller said during a Sept. 11 American Forces Press Service interview.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has said diversity is important to the department's mission success and inclusion for military and civilian workers, she said.
Not only does that bring a variety of background skills, language and cultural competencies the DOD will need in the 21st century, Miller said, but diversity also fosters an environment in which people feel they can achieve whatever they want.
"There are no barriers standing in the way of their personal success," she added.
Census figures for 2009 show more than 50 million Hispanics live in the United States, making them the largest minority group.
In 2011, Hispanics comprised 11 percent of active-duty military and nearly 17 percent of new recruits, Miller said.
"Reflective of the nation, the Hispanic population for both military and civilians has continued to grow, particularly in the last decade since 9/11, in critical areas such as science, technology, engineering and math fields where we know there will be advancement opportunities," Miller said.
Pentagon officials are excited about the growth of Hispanic-Americans and what they will continue to achieve, she added.
"As National Hispanic Heritage Month has evolved from just a week in the 1960s to the month-long recognition event in the late 1980s, so too has the recognition for Hispanic-Americans (in DOD)," Miller said.
Military leaders provide outreach programs in the Hispanic community, Miller added.
"We're very well-received in the Hispanic community," she said. "It's amazing to see some of our uniformed service members, especially junior officers and the junior enlisted, getting to engage with Hispanic high school or college youths.
"We have folks who go out and compete in rocket competitions, and help (with) simulator experiences," Miller said. "It gives (Hispanic-Americans) a broader view of what opportunities are inside DOD in uniform and as civilians. It's a unique way of recognizing the population and how much we value that presence within the department."
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