National Hispanic Heritage Month has an odd date framework from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, with good reason.
This observance opens and closes mid-month because Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua celebrate their independence on Sept. 15, and Spain and Latin American countries celebrate the discovery of the Americas on Oct. 12.
The commemoration also takes into account the Independence Day of Mexico on Sept. 16 and the Independence Day of Chile on Sept. 18.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, the U.S. Army celebrates the long-standing and remarkable contributions that Hispanics have made in building and defending the nation.
The Army and our nation draws strength from the diversity that makes up America’s melting pot.
The valuable roles of American soldiers with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America are treasured and respected. Hispanic-Americans have decisively defended and shown allegiance to our nation through exceptional military service.
With more than 40 Medal of Honor recipients dating back to the Civil War, Hispanic-Americans represent the military with deep, abiding patriotism and heroism.
Continuing this tradition, more than 133,000 Hispanics currently serve in the total force, and more than 66,000 of them are in the Army. During this observance, the Army shows its appreciation of all Hispanic-Americans who have served and those who continue to serve today.
One Hispanic-American soldier who always comes to mind during this observance is Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez, who served in Vietnam.
While serving near Loc Ninh, Vietnam, May 2, 1968, with the 5th Special Forces Group, then-Staff Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez received a distress call from another team. Upon reaching the scene, Benavidez, who had already been seriously wounded on a previous tour, leaped off the helicopter and ran through 75 meters of unrelenting fire, getting shot in his right leg, face and head.
He carried wounded men aboard the helicopter, then attempted to recover a fallen soldier and classified documents, sustaining even more severe wounds in the process.
After the helicopter pilot was killed, Benavidez organized a perimeter, returned fire, called in air strikes and distributed ammunition, medicine and water. When another aircraft was finally able to land, Benavidez ferried his comrades to the helicopter through devastating fire.
By the time he reached safety, Benavidez was unable to move or speak and was riddled with more than 30 wounds.
Just as he was about to be placed into a body bag, he spit into a doctor’s face. He remained in the Army, retiring as a master sergeant in 1976. Benavidez’s Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 1981 after investigators located a witness to his actions.
In 1985, Hispanics represented three percent of the Army’s population. That percentage has grown to 14 percent in 2016.
Just as America’s diversity has always been one of the nation’s greatest strengths, the Army’s diverse force makes it stronger and more capable.
The legacy of Hispanic soldier courage and selfless service is certainly an inspiration for future generations of Americans.
Staff Sgt. SCOTT PANGELINAN is the operations tasking noncommissioned officer for the U.S. Army Operational Test Command public affairs office.