1980s to Modern Day
Hispanic Americans made remarkable strides in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps during the 1980s. In 1981, the first Hispanic American females graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. For that year, Midshipman Carmel Gilliland graduated with the highest class rank. Important officers during this time were Vice Admiral Diego E. Hernandez, USN, and Rear Admiral Benjamin F. Montoya, CEC, USN, who were promoting the recruitment of Hispanic Americans in the country and presenting themselves as an example to American citizens. Rising through the ranks during this period was Commandner Marc V.E. Pelaez, USN, who would later attain the rank of rear admiral and serve as Chief of Naval Research during the late 1990s.
In the last decade of the Twentieth Century, Hispanic Americans participated in military operations such as Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield. Reflecting on the broad reach of service, Hispanic Americans could be found in all ranks and specialties such as chaplians, weapons officers, career counselors, civil engineering, and the medical corps. In 2002, Lieutenant Commander Kathleen Contres, USN, rose to the rank of captain and became an advocate for Hispanics and what they can achieve by joining the U.S. Navy.
Ready when the call to fight terrorism came upon the United States after 9/11, Hispanic Americans enlisted and served as officers in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps abroad in the Middle East. Dedicated individuals such as Hospital Apprentice Luis E. Fonseca, Jrs. received the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism while serving with the U.S. Marines during the battle at An Nasiriyah, Iraq, in March 2003. In 2006, Joe Campa became the first Hispanic Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. The following year, Command Yvette Davids became the first Hispanic female to command a surface combatant, USS Curts (FFG-38) in April 2007. A leading figure in the 21st Century is Rear Admiral Albert Garcia III, CEC, USN, leading in the Civil Engineering Corps. In the modern Navy, about fourteen percent of the Navy's total force identified themselves of Hispanic descent, including about five percent of the officer corps.
Image: 330-CFD-DN-ST-94-02147: Lieutenant Rich Torez escorts Junior Reserve Officer Training Candidates (JROTC) at San Diego Naval Base, San Diego, 1993. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.