Major General Alfred A. Valenzuela
The Texas Story Project.
"We don't want to be on the sidelines. Hispanics normally commit to the combat units such as the Infantry, Field Artillery, Rangers, Special Forces, and Airborne. We want to go to the fight and do our part." These are just a few things that Army Major General (Retired) Alfred A. Valenzuela had to say about Hispanics in the U.S. military. While presiding over the funeral of one of the first combat casualties of the war in Iraq, Army Specialist Rodrigo Gonzalez-Garza, of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, a young soldier who was not even a citizen, General Valenzuela began to wonder what made young soldiers like the one he buried want to fight and die for a country of which they were not yet citizens. Specialist Gonzalez-Garza also had three other brothers in the war who were green card holders. Thus began his mission to tell their stories.
General Valenzuela was born in 1948 in Refugio, Texas. His mother, Sara Garcia, is a descendant of Canary Islanders. The family of his father, Alfred Q. Valenzuela, originally came from Valencia, Spain by way of Mexico. General Valenzuela's father was a WWII veteran and one of the first Hispanics to utilize the GI Bill. He attended St. Mary's University and his mother went to the Draughon Business College. General Valenzuela came from very humble beginnings and prides himself on hard and honest work. As a young boy, he understood that discipline and being a team player would lead him to success. He strove to be a leader in whatever he did be it sports or group projects. In the early stages, he was better suited for following, but when his time came to lead he made sure to learn from the mistakes of those who came before him. In his very early teen years, he spent time picking apples under Mount Rainier near Washington with his grandparents who were migrant workers, and would later attend high school. His childhood and teen years were crucial for developing him into the military leader he became as they taught him to keep to the grindstone and work for what he wanted. General Valenzuela valued all the mentorship and guidance he was given, be it from the Boy Scouts of America, The Boys & Girls Club (then known as the Boys Club), or his early education.
Like his father before him, General Valenzuela eventually attended St. Mary's University and was enrolled in the Army ROTC program. He graduated in 1970 and was commissioned as a Field Artillery Officer. General Valenzuela was first stationed in Fort Hood near Austin, Texas, which was fortunate for him and his wife who had recently given birth to their first child. They were close to family and were given time to adjust to Army life. But he was soon off to Turkey as an artillery advisor for the Turkish Military. From here on, General Valenzuela’s career took him all over the world to places like Peru, Colombia, Grenada, El Salvador, Korea, Somalia, and Kuwait just to name a few. He served for thirty-three years and achieved the rank of Major General. At the time he reached the rank of Major General, General Valenzuela was the highest ranking Hispanic in the U.S. military (1998-2004) and would be one of only three Hispanic General Officers at the time to have been in the active force. He served during the Cold War, Gulf War, and both Iraq and Afghanistan wars and served in three Combat Corps and six Infantry Divisions and spent numerous years in interagency assignments. Upon his retirement in 2004 he received the highest peacetime awards: the Defense and Army Distinguished Service Medals.
Post-retirement, General Valenzuela continues his public service. He created an educational foundation for at-risk children and for the families of soldiers killed in the line of duty. He has or now sits on several community Boards of Directors such as: Boy Scouts of America, Family Service Association, Boys and Girls Club, Communities in School, and Haven for Hope. He is an Eagle Scout and was inducted into the Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame in 2000. He sits on the National Board of Directors for St. Mary’s University, Rush Group Inc., Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, National Recreation Board of America, and USAA Federal Savings Bank. He is a senior consultant to the Center of Terrorism at St. Mary’s University School of Law, where he was recently named a Distinguished Alumnus. A former San Antonio Housing Authority Interim President/CEO, he is now a consultant and the Executive Director of the housing authority of Bexar County. He is President/CEO of M.C. Valens; a service-disabled veteran-owned business. His company has accepted the mission to advise the senior Mexican leadership on the war on drugs. He is a motivational speaker, named one of the one hundred most influential Hispanics in the U.S. by Hispanic Business Magazine.
General Valenzuela even published a book titled No Greater Love: The Lives and Times of Hispanic Soldiers and has won numerous awards. All proceeds of the book go to the families of the more than twenty-one soldiers he has buried from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This book was just the beginning of General Valenzuela’s mission to further spread awareness of the numerous Hispanics that have served in the U.S. military that have not received the recognition they are due. Alongside this effort, General Valenzuela was selected by former President Obama to be a part of a ten-member WWI Centennial Commission in order to commemorate and spread awareness of the Great War, an often forgotten and overshadowed war. In this commission, General Valenzuela develops educational programs and coordinates projects and activities both around the U.S. and abroad. General Valenzuela recently gave a speech in France about the battles at the Argonne Forest and Meuse River where there were over three thousand in attendance.
During his time in the Centennial Commission and as part of his continuing service to military families in presiding over their funerals, General Valenzuela has uncovered many facts about Hispanic soldiers in our nation's fighting force. For example, in WWI there were over 500,000 immigrants who fought in our Army, including many who were not guaranteed citizenship. Many of them fought in the battles of the Argonne Forest and Meuse River, the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history. Of the fifty-four Medals of Honor awarded after the battle, some of them went to these immigrant soldiers who were fighting for a country that did not guarantee them citizenship. This has occurred throughout our nation’s history.
Each time General Valenzuela buried one of these soldiers, he learned yet another extraordinary story and he becomes the voice and heart from which we can learn their stories, which is our story and our history.
I am Ruben Canales and I am a senior at St. Mary's University in San Antonio Texas. I am a cadet in the Army ROTC program and will commission as an Infantry Officer in May, 2018. It so happens that the subject of this story, Major General Alfred Valenzuela, is also a graduate of St. Mary's and the ROTC program. He served as an inspiration to me and being able to work directly with him and hearing his story for this was an honor.
Posted March 27, 2018