LatinaLista — As the highest-ranking active-duty Latino officer prior to his retirement in 2004, Maj. Gen. Alfred Valenzuela has spent 33 years serving his country. He has been decorated countless times for heroism and valor, including receiving the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, and the Bronze Star for Valor. He served across the globe, working his way up through the ranks, eventually serving as deputy commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command, based in Miami, and commander of the U.S. Army South at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico.
Major General Alfred Valenzuela
Yet his career has also been touched by tragedy. In March 2003, Valenzuela presided over the funeral of the first casualty of the Iraq War. The death of the soldier, who was not yet a U.S. citizen, spurred Valenzuela to ponder what motivated that soldier and countless other immigrants to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. To that end, Valenzuela recently wrote “No Greater Love: The Life and Times of Hispanic Soldiers,” commemorating the 21 soldiers he buried over the years.
The book, which Valenzuela self-published, tells of the often-ignored contributions immigrants have made to the U.S. forces. Valenzuela says he wrote it for the soldiers, their families and the U.S government. In his book, Valenzuela also talks about his own life as a young Latino from a troubled background who rose through the ranks to the highest levels in the U.S. military.
Named one of the most influential Latinos in the United States by a national business publication, Valenzuela is also a staunch advocate for increasing educational opportunities for Latinos. He’s been elected to the Hall of Fame for The Boys Club and serves on the board of trustees for Saint Mary’s University, his alma mater.
On the eve of this Memorial Day weekend, Valenzuela spoke directly with DiversityInc on a number of subjects he’s passionate about, including Latino education in the United States and his hope that the contributions immigrants have made to the U.S. military will one day be fully recognized and appreciated.
Why are the contributions of immigrant soldiers largely ignored?
To hear Valenzuela on the tremendous impact immigrant soldiers have had in the U.S. American forces, his thoughts on patriotism, perseverance and loyalty to one’s county, his passion in speaking to at-risk Latino youth and his own memories of how he strayed into trouble as a youth looking for discipline, including his brief stint as a gang member, go to the Diversity Inc. article and hear Valenzuela’s responses in his own words.