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Executive Discusses Hispanic American Heritage Month

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2014 – Education and the willingness to move are keys for anyone getting ahead in federal service, the deputy director of resources at U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said in a recent interview.

Rhonda Diaz, a member of the senior executive service, discussed federal service and the growing number of Hispanic Americans.

Hispanic American Heritage Month begins today and runs through Oct. 15. Diaz said she believes it is important to recognize Hispanic Americans, as their efforts were often neglected in the past.

In addition, she said, the month is important so others “are exposed to our culture, our traditions and really understand the contributions we have made to the United States, and DoD as well.”

Hispanic American population is growing

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanic Americans make up just over 17 percent of the U.S. population, and that percentage is growing.

Diaz, who will leave her post in Germany next month to move to be the director of the Army Civilian Human Resource Agency, entered federal service in 1988 as a GS-7. She said she has seen a tremendous growth in the number of Hispanic Americans in government.

“And that is a good thing,” Diaz said. “We still have a long ways to go, but we do see a positive trend with more Hispanics entering the workforce.”

Diaz said she believes more Hispanic Americans should be in senior positions. Many Hispanic Americans serve in entry-level civilian jobs and as junior enlisted personnel in the military, she noted.

More Hispanics needed in senior positions

Diaz added that she would like to see Hispanics in more-senior civilian positions, senior enlisted positions, and as commissioned officers.

Still, she said, “we are seeing more and more Hispanics growing into leadership and management positions.”

Education is key to this process, she said.

“In the personnel community, we are actively trying to recruit Hispanics,” she said. “Over time, as they go through their careers, you are seeing more and more [Hispanic Americans] emerge to be leaders.”

Mentorship is important

Mentorship programs are helpful, she added, and all young workers, no matter their ethnicity or race, should participate in them.

When she talks to young men and women, Diaz said, she stresses the importance of education -- the more, the better.

“Even a bachelor’s degree isn’t the magic key it once was,” she said. “Science and technology, math and foreign language expertise -- our Hispanic community can bring those skill sets to the department.”

Seek responsibility

From the beginning of her federal career, Diaz said, she has sought out jobs with more and more responsibility and jobs that would broaden her experiences. Her first job, she said, was in classification at McClellan Air Force Base, California.

“It gave me a perspective of all the different jobs that are available,” Diaz said.

She then moved to Lindsey Air Station in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Work overseas

“It was an absolutely amazing opportunity,” Diaz said. “I think anyone who works for the Department of Defense as a civilian should try to go overseas.”

Back in the United States, Diaz worked at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, and then moved on to be an action officer at DoD’s regionalization and modernization office, where personnel offices were merged into regional personnel centers.

Diaz moved to the Defense Personnel Data System, where she said she “learned how to talk IT talk,” and then moved to the Office of Personnel Management, where she headed the Enterprise Human Resources Integration Initiative.

“That really increased my experience,” she said.

She came back to DoD and was the program manager for the Defense Civilian Personnel Data System, and served as the deputy director of the Civilian Personnel Management Service -- now called the Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Service.

Her move to Stuttgart gave her experience at a combatant command, and she will start at the Army Civilian Human Resource Agency in October.

Selfless service

Many people have helped her along the way in her career, Diaz said. One thing they all impressed on her was that a federal career is “more about selfless service and less about the paycheck,” she said.

“It gives you a sense that you are accomplishing something for the greater good,” she added.

Diaz said her family lives within an hour of where she was brought up, and that they regarded her move to California in 1988 “as a big move.” Her job has taken her from the Horn of Africa to the capitals of Europe and all through the United States.

Her family regards her as “kind of the gypsy,” she said. “I think they are proud of me.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)


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Related Sites:
National Hispanic Heritage Month
Special Report: Hispanic Heritage Month

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