Hispanics in the U.S. Military

In the service of their country, 2001 through 2009

By John P. Schmal
Published on LatinoLA: May 18, 2009

Hispanics in the U.S. Military

Hispanics In the Military (2001) - At the end of September 2001 the Pew Hispanic Center reported that there were 109,487 Hispanics in the enlisted ranks, and they made up 9.49 percent of the active duty enlisted force. In contrast, Hispanics made up 13.35 percent of the civilian labor force 18 to 44 years old, the typical age range for enlisted service. The Center's statistics illustrated "significant variations in the extent of Hispanic representation among the armed services from a high of 13.99 percent in the Marine Corps to a low of 5.57 percent in the Air Force."

Hispanics in the Military (2007) - More recent statistics from the Pew Hispanic Center have indicated an increase in the number of Hispanics on active duty in the military to 122,255 in 2007. This Hispanic military population represented 11.06 percent of the total military of 1,105,470. In the same year, the Heritage Foundation estimated that Hispanics and Latinos represented 12.93 percent of total recruits.

In contrast to the military statistics, the entire population of Hispanics/Latinos, as estimated by the "American Community Survey of 2005-2007," stood at 44,019,880, or 14.7 percent of the entire resident population. The 122,255 active-duty Hispanics in 2007 included 16,721 foreign-born soldiers.

Hispanic Casualties (2001-2009) - Hispanic Americans have also made up a portion of the casualties that American forces have experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between October 7, 2001 to May 2, 2009, 53 military service members who classified themselves as Hispanics or Latinos died in the service of their country, representing 7.8 percent of military deaths. During the same period, 147 Hispanics have been wounded in action, representing 5.2 percent of all wounded service members.

In a Congressional Research Service report dated March 25, 2009, Information Research Specialist Hannah Fischer reported that the total Hispanic/Latino military deaths in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom up to February 28, 2009, was 450 individuals, representing 10.6 percent of all military deaths (4,245).

Hispanic Military Officers - The Pew Hispanic Center report in 2003 lamented the small percentage of Hispanics among military officers and generals. For several years, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded coalition troops for a year beginning June 2003, had been the highest ranking Hispanic in the military. He had been one of just eight Hispanics ever to rise to the rank of general in the Army by 2003. At the time of his retirement in 2006 after 33 years in the military only three Hispanic generals were left on active duty.

Since General Sanchez retired, there has been a small amount of progress toward greater representation, but legislators has been taking steps to accelerate the process. According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, as of March 31, 2008, the 13 Hispanic flag and general officers in the armed forces at that time represented only 1.3 percent of the 963 flag and general officers.

In contrast, there were 54 African-American flag officers and general officers (including one four-star general) and 883 Caucasian flag and general officers.

In response to this problem, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) approved two amendments in the defense authorization bill to increase diversity representation within the senior officer corps of the U.S. Armed Forces, and expand Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) Units. Once enacted, the newly established Senior Military Diversity Commission would be mandated to study policies that provide opportunities for the advancement of minority members of the Armed Forces. Special emphasis was placed on developing and maintaining a diverse leadership at the general and flag officer positions.

A Celebration of Commitment to Duty - In 2007, Bruce E. Phillips, in this article, "Top Hispanics in the U.S. Military: Celebrating Commitment to Honor, Duty and Country" (Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology, January 18, 2007), paid tribute to several of the highest rank Hispanic in the military, including:

Major General Thomas A. Benes, Director, Strategy and Plans Division, U.S. Marine Corps
Major General William D. Catto, Commanding General, Marine Corps Systems Command
Brigadier General Jimmie C. Jackson Jr., Deputy Commander, Combined Air Operations Center, Allied Command Operations (NATO)
Brigadier General Robert Marrero-Corletto, Assistant Adjutant General (Army), Puerto Rico Army National Guard
Rear Admiral George E. Mayer, Commander, Naval Safety Center
Brigadier General Joseph V. Medina, Commanding General, Marine Corps Base Camp S.D. Butler, and Deputy Commander, Marine Corps Bases, Japan
Brigadier General Roque C. Nido-Lanausse, Deputy Adjutant General, Puerto Rico Army National Guard
Brigadier General Joseph Reynes Jr., Commander, 51st Fighter Wing, Osan Air Base, South Korea
Major General Charles G. Rodriguez, Adjutant General, Texas National Guard
Rear Admiral William D. Rodriguez, Chief Engineer, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command
Brigadier General Angela Salinas, Chief of Staff, Marine Corps Recruiting Command

Underrepresentation of Hispanic Military Recruits - Each year, the Department of Defense is required by Congress to publish statistics on the social representation of the armed forces in terms of such characteristics as race, ethnicity, marital status, and age. One of the chief goals of the Congress is that the diversity in the armed forces should be proportional to the diversity in the general population.

However, in a 2009 research publication, the Rand National Research Institute echoed the observations of earlier years by stating that "Hispanics are underrepresented among military recruits. In 2007, Hispanics made up 17.0 percent of the general population (ages 18 to 40) but only 11.4 percent of Army enlistment contracts and 15 percent of Navy enlistment contracts."

The Rand report indicated that "the underrepresentation of Hispanics is puzzling, considering that survey data on young people's attitudes toward the military consistently indicate that Hispanic youth are more likely than other groups to express a positive attitude toward the military."

As an example of this attitude, it was pointed out that in a "December 2007 poll of American youth ages 18 to 24 conducted by the Department of Defense, 12.6 percent of Hispanic respondents stated they were probably or definitely going to join the military, compared with 10.1 percent of black respondents and 6.6 percent of white respondents" (Defense Human Resources Activity, 2008).


Asch, Beth J.; Buck, Christopher; Klerman, Jacob Alex; Kleykamp, Meredith and Loughran, David S, "Military Enlistment of Hispanic Youth Obstacles and Opportunities," (Rand National Research Institute, 2009).

Defense Human Resources Activity, 2008.

Department of Defense Personnel and Procurement Statistics, "Personnel & Procurement Reports and Data Files, Military Casualty Information."

Fischer, Hannah, "United States Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom," Congressional Research Service, March 25, 2009.

Pew Hispanic Center Fact Sheet, "Hispanics in the Military, March 27, 2003," Online:

Pew Hispanic Center, "Statistical Portrait of Hispanics in the United States, 2007."

Phillips, Bruce E., "Top Hispanics in the U.S. Military: Celebrating Commitment to Honor, Duty and Country," Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology, January 18, 2007.

U.S. Census Bureau, "2005-2007 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates."

About the Author: John P. Schmal will be conducting a seminar on family history research in Aguascalientes, Jalisco and Zacatecas on June 6 at the Orange Family History Center. Free admission. See the calendar for more details.

About John P. Schmal:
John P. Schmal is a specialist in Mexican genealogical research and has written articles about the indigenous people of several Mexican states, some of which can be seen at:
Author's website

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