In March 2003, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Alfredo “Freddie” Valenzuela presided over the funeral of Army Spc. Rodrigo Gonzalez-Garza, the first casualty of the Iraq war. Gonzalez-Garza was born in Sabinas Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and was brought to San Antonio by his parents as an infant. He died defending the United States while pursuing his dream of becoming a citizen of this country.
Even though Gonzalez-Garza's death was significant on many levels, Valenzuela was especially moved by the fact that the young soldier made the ultimate sacrifice for a nation not his own. His story inspired Valenzuela to research why Hispanic soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines perform heroically in times of war and peace without asking anything special in return.
“No Greater Love: The Lives and Times of Hispanic Soldiers” is Valenzuela's tender, thought-provoking tribute to Gonzalez-Garza and the thousands of Hispanics who have served, and are serving, in the U.S. military.
The book is critical of the U.S. Army and offers advice on corrective measures that Valenzuela believes must take place to achieve true diversity within its ranks.
Valenzuela retired from the Army in 2004 after a 33-year career in which he was highly decorated for heroism and valor. Currently the interim chief executive officer of the San Antonio Housing Authority, the Alamo City native understands better than most that it takes a special kind of soldier to excel in today's fast-paced, global environment, regardless of ethnicity.
While the book is not a history of Hispanics in the military, it does provide guiding principles for today's Latino service members as they embark on their careers in the armed forces.
Valenzuela challenges those who have achieved rank and positions of authority to exercise responsible mentoring so that up-and-coming soldiers can achieve their full potential.
Valenzuela even raises a scolding finger at today's military and political leaders by demanding that diversity not be a token catchphrase but a tenet that the Army strongly adhere to in order to ensure equality to every man and woman in uniform.
Perhaps no one understands the true cost of supporting combat soldiers on every level better than the few selected to wear stars on their collars — and there can be no room for error. Valenzuela wonders why Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez was singled out over the Abu Ghraib scandal and ponders if ethnicity entered the equation. But like a good soldier, he leaves readers to reach their own conclusion.
In the book's introduction, Valenzuela notes that he wants to exalt the achievements and attributes of Hispanic soldiers to properly measure their value to the Army and the nation. Mission accomplished. It's touching to see that he cherishes friendships made in service to his country and mourns every loss of life.
Although Valenzuela feels that no one joins the armed forces with the intent of being labeled a hero, he is proud that Hispanic soldiers repeatedly answer the call to sacrifice even if their exploits remain largely unsung — despite the fact that they stand among the most wounded and killed of any ethnic classification in the armed forces.
“No Greater Love” is one general's unconditional testament of devotion to the men and women he has served and fought alongside. It's a poignant reminder that the freedom we cherish isn't truly free but is paid for through the blood and tears of soldiers, regardless of race, who may never come home again.