WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 25, 2015) — Col. James E. Saenz said he learned at an early age about family values from his parents and extended Family, growing up in Alhambra, California, several miles from downtown Los Angeles.
Later, when he joined the Army, he said those same values he learned as a child matched the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.
Joining a values-based organization made him feel like he’d joined a second Family, the Army, said Saenz, who is now the chief of the Strategic Initiatives Group, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management.
As the Army and the nation celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, he said it’s a time to reflect on contributions and sacrifices Hispanics have made to the United States, not just in the military, but in all walks of life.
A significant number of Hispanics have served in all of the nation’s wars beginning with the Revolutionary War, he said.
“In our past history, diversity wasn’t as appreciated as it is today and many experienced discrimination, but they still chose to serve their nation despite that,” he pointed out.
“The Army has led the nation in showing the strength of diversity and how integration can be the strength and foundation of our democracy,” Saenz said.
The Army strives to reflect the society it serves, he said.
Those who claim to be Latino or Hispanic make up about 16 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 survey. “Latinos make up about 13 percent of the Army, so I think that’s a pretty good reflection” of that rapidly growing demographic, Saenz said.
The military, particularly the Army, is a good place for Hispanics to serve, he said.
Once you become a Soldier, you’re a Soldier for Life, he said, referring to the program by that name that helps Soldiers start strong, serve strong and later reintegrate back into their communities, where they help make them even stronger.
On a personal note, Saenz said his parents taught him to appreciate hard work and the value of education, both formal as well as life-experience education.
His father started at a low-level blue collar job with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and worked his way up to superintendent for one of the five power districts. His mom cared for the Family and later became a secretary for the city school district. His brother, Thomas, is a civil rights lawyer, and is president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national nonprofit organization that supports civil rights.
“It’s service to country in a different way,” he said.
Saenz said he sees a connection of his own Family’s values with not just the Army’s values, but with other Hispanic communities, which also share these same values. He said he learned this from travels around the world, experiencing Latino cultures other than his own.
Non-Latino Americans can celebrate this month as well, he said. He encouraged others to try to get an understanding of Hispanic culture and history, and to also appreciate the service and sacrifices of its veterans.
“We all need to celebrate our own heritages, cultures and diversity as a nation,” he said, referring to Hispanic and other groups as well. “Much of the strength of our nation comes from our diversity and the multitude of cultures. The Army is a good reflection of that diversity and has been very good at celebrating it. We led the way in integration in many ways by integrating military organizations in preparation to fight our nation’s wars.”
He said that he hopes more Hispanics will serve and will seek higher levels of responsibility to become role models for others to follow.
“Hispanics have made significant contributions as leaders in government, academics and business,” Saenz said. “Role models help show our youth that success in these areas is possible, so more are apt to seek careers in these areas. That increases diversity and strengthens the institution.”
Saenz fulfilled his parent’s wishes for him to get a good education. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and later went to graduate school. He also served in a variety of special operations assignments from detachment commander to group executive officer.
Recently, Saenz served as the commander of U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria. He participated in Operations Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom, as well as numerous counter-narcotics missions in Central and South America.
Saenz said that his father, who also served in the Army, is very proud of his military service.