Air Force ROTC, HEAT address Hispanic, Latino commissioning barriers

  • Published
  • By Phil Berube
  • Air University Public Affairs

The Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions and Citizen Development is co-hosting a national symposium Feb. 17, 2022, with a Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group to identify challenges and barriers Hispanic and Latino college students face on their path to a commission through the Air Force ROTC program.

The first-ever Air Force ROTC symposium focused on Hispanic-Serving Institutions is a capstone event following four regional virtual “table talks” held in January 2022.

The goal of the January table talks, co-hosted by the Holm Center and the Hispanic Empowerment and Advancement Team BAWG and attended by HSIs from throughout the country was discovery in nature. The discussions identified key themes in the barriers HSIs and corresponding ROTC detachments are encountering in the enrollment and retention of Hispanic and Latino students.

The Hispanic-Serving Institutions-Air Force ROTC Team National Symposium again brings these different institutions together to address the prevalent barriers identified during the table talks, acknowledges key best practices that may already be in place and proposes partnerships. The overall goal is to walk away with tangible lines of effort to address identified barriers in the near future.

Symposium keynote speakers are Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones and Stephen Herrera, HEAT co-champion and principal deputy assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Financial Management and Comptroller.

The symposium will include participation of 16 major HSIs, host AFROTC detachments and seven non-HSIs with large Hispanic AFROTC enrollments, all of whom were part of the January table talks. Joining in the discussion will be university administrators and diversity and inclusion leaders, distinguished alumni from participating universities, ROTC cadre and cadets and affinity groups, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance.

“Our goal for this symposium is to not only discuss and find ways to overcome the challenges Hispanic and Latino students face trying to commission through Air Force ROTC, but to also partner with participating universities to see how we can best serve them together to find their success,” said Brig. Gen. Leslie Maher, commander of the Holm Center, which is the parent organization for AFROTC. “Whether socio-economic or matters with balancing family, work and school life, these students face a unique set of barriers that might hinder a fruitful college career, which could then affect their choice of vocations, to include the military.”

The symposium, she said, is in line with Recommendation 1.3 from the 2020 Department of Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion Report. That recommendation stipulates that the military departments will work to increase the pool of qualified ROTC enrollment, scholarships and commission applicants from minority serving institutions.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2060, the projected Hispanic/Latino population in the U.S. will reach 111 million, up from 62 million in 2020. Using current AFROTC figures, about 41%, or 26,000, of the officers currently serving in the Regular Air Force were commissioned through AFROTC. Of that number, only 10%, or roughly 2,600, are Hispanic/Latino.

“To keep pace with the projected growth of the Hispanic and Latino population and to grow the pool of eligible officer candidates as stipulated in the Defense report, we have to do all we can to keep them in school and to make Air Force ROTC an attractive career option for them,” said Maher.    

The solutions identified at the symposium will be published in a report co-authored by Headquarters Air Force ROTC and the HEAT outlining strategies to remove or reduce enrollment and retention barriers. The report will be published in late spring or early summer 2022.