It is estimated that about 15-18 percent of all U.S. Military Branches are comprised of Latino enlistees, with each branch showing a different breakdown. The U.S. Marine Corps and The U.S. Navy remain the most highly populated, with over 15% and nearly 14% of their respective forces comprised of Latinos. The Army and Air Force show a representation of 12% and 6 % respectively. Latinos serving in the U.S. Military is nothing new, as nearly all of the 28 major conflicts the U.S. has been involved with over time have had Latino soldiers on the front lines, and over 40 of them have received The Congressional Medal of Honor, which is the U.S. Military's highest honor. Despite the high tradition of Latinos serving in the U.S. Military, it remains a cultural divider, as there are some Latinos that are serving without even being granted U.S. citizenship! Take the case of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Mario Ramos-Villalta, an El Salvadorian national who has endured two tours in Iraq and has since been deployed for Afghanistan. The soldier, a Purple Heart recipient for Valor in Combat, says "A lot of the papers I get say, 'You're a great American,'" he says. "I am not an American citizen yet, but I still fight for it," he says, adding "Sometimes I do get depressed about still not being a U.S. citizen and going over there." This admirable courage is shared by Ramos-Villalta with an estimated 20,500 "non U.S. citizens," nicknamed "green-card warriors," who serve in today's U.S. Military. This is made possible by an initiative that former President George Bush signed granting immediate citizenship for any foreigners who served honorably after September 11, 2001. If the story of a man like Mario Ramos-Villalta, who has already been wounded in action and is on his third tour of active duty doesn't move you, than I would argue that he certainly deserves his citizenship more than you do. Many of the things we take for granted are the same things that non-nationals are fighting for, and herein lies the conflict: many serving Latinos face criticism from their own family members about "fighting for a country that they do not even belong to." This argument is justifiable, as I could not imagine fighting for a country that my immediate family cannot live in. This courage should be commended however, as it's safe to say that many of the more traditional U.S. citizens would be far less willing to die for their country. Of course this non-citizen enlistment is not the case with all Latino soldiers, as there are many Latino-Americans who are American citizens that have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A 2006 report on "Population Representation in the Military Services," issued by the Defense Department, determined that "with 11 percent of active duty enlisted members counted as Hispanic, this group remained underrepresented relative to the growing comparable civilian population (17 percent)." Most believe that there are more than 11 percent of active duty enlisted members that are Latino, because the number of non-citizens that are enlisted are not counted on the military's deployment reports, as they do not have the same paper work as U.S. Latino citizens. This makes it tough to estimate just how many Latino soldiers are currently serving in Afghanistan, although reports indicate that at least 12 percent of the nearly 50,000 U.S. Troops are of Hispanic descent. Breaking that statistic down even further, there have been over 800 U.S. casualties to date in Afghanistan, meaning that nearly 100 of our Latino brothers and sisters have passed away while fighting for the U.S. in this difficult conflict.