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Army celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month; heroism highlighted

Email   Print   Share By Maj. Gen. Warren E. Phipps Jr., Div. West Commanding General
September 19, 2013 | Editorial
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In this file photo, President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry, 75th Ranger Regiment, for his valor in Afghanistan at the White House, July 12, 2011. Photo courtesy DoD
Our country thrives on the diversity and ingenuity of all our people. Our Army also thrives from this very same fabric of diversity found in our nation. Throughout the year, we join our nation in celebrating this diverse fabric that makes us so great.

President Barack Obama has designated Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 as “National Hispanic Heritage Month” to honor the achievements of Hispanics in America. During this monthlong observance, America celebrates the culture and traditions of those who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Our Army, along with America, acknowledges the vital contributions of Hispanic Americans and celebrates the Hispanic heritage.

Today, the Hispanic American population, totaling more than 53 million, constitutes 17 percent of our nation’s total population. Hispanic Americans represent a wide array of distinct and vibrant cultures and have written vital chapters in the history of our nation. Hispanic Americans have honorably defended our country in war and help our nation thrive in peace. Approximately 1.2 million Hispanics are proud veterans of our armed forces. Approximately 115,000 Soldiers of Hispanic descent dedicate their lives nobly serving our Army and nation today.

Since the Civil War, 44 Hispanic Americans have received the Medal of Honor for distinguishing themselves through their valorous actions on combat.

I reflect on my early days in the Army as a cadet and having the tremendous honor of escorting Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez of Cuero, during his visit to West Point.

Benavidez had recently been awarded the Medal of Honor by President Ronald Reagan for “a series of daring and extremely valorous actions” on May 2, 1968, while assigned to Detachment B56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, Republic of Vietnam. During the presentation, the president remarked, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.”

Hearing Benavidez’s citation and his personal remarks regarding faith, determination and positive attitude have inspired me to this day.

Most recently, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry, of Hispanic descent from Sante Fe, N.M., was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama during 2011 for his acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life.

On May 26, 2008, during his seventh deployment, Petry was a member of a team on a mission to capture a Taliban target in Paktia Province. Despite being wounded in both legs by gunfire, Petry continued to fight and give orders. When a grenade landed between him and two other Soldiers, Petry grabbed it and attempted to throw it away from them when it exploded.

His actions saved the Soldiers’ lives, but severed his right hand.

Petry now wears a prosthesis. Choosing to re-enlist despite his wounds, Petry is currently stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Washington, where he serves as a liaison officer for United States Special Operations Command’s Care Coalition Northwest Region, assisting ill and wounded warriors and their Families.

It is Soldiers like Benavidez and Petry who our nation looks to with inspiration and pride as both highly decorated Soldiers and distinguished Hispanic Americans.

As we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, take time to acknowledge the accomplishments and contributions of our fellow Hispanic Americans

They have served courageously as members of our armed forces to defend those ideals at home and abroad. They serve in pivotal roles and provide a solid foundation to the composition of our Army and the community at large.

Hispanic Americans are an important thread in the fabric of our great nation and our proud Army. Army Strong!
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