“As you raise your right hand today, you become the latest in a long line of citizens from this community who have made our country and world more secure,” Fanning said.
The Harlem neighborhood is the home of one of the Army’s most famed units, the Harlem Hell fighters of the 369th Infantry Regiment from World War I, and the birthplace of modern day leaders like General Colin Powell and congressmen Charles Rangel, an Army veteran and Korean War hero.
In his remarks, Fanning connected Harlem’s rich history with the promise of the Army’s future force, telling the soldiers, “Each of you, no matter what role or specialty you pursue in the Army, will carry forward this legacy.”
“We need experience, critical thinking and creativity in our force, but most importantly, we need teams of people who think differently from one another and yet are joined together in a common cause,” he continued. “The diversity of missions we are tasked to complete … requires that we draw from the broadest pool of American’s best.”
Before the ceremony, the Secretary had sat down for lunch with recruiters from the Harlem recruiting center at Harlem’s famous Sylvia’s Restaurant, where they discussed the challenges recruiters face in neighborhoods where people are unfamiliar with the Army.
Under the leadership of Sgt. First Class Yanitza Betances, the Harlem recruiting center has become one of the top centers in Army recruiting command. Her center far exceeded its 2015 recruiting goals and ranked that year as the number two recruiting center for reserve mission in the mid-Atlantic region.
“The NCOs at the Harlem recruiting center are great Soldiers and representative of the high-quality recruiters we have in the New York City Recruiting Battalion and throughout (Army Recruiting Command),” Lt. Col. Matt Balint, the battalion commander, noted in his introduction of Secretary Fanning.
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Lt. Col. Balint added, “The Secretary’s visit highlights the importance of … our recruiting mission, that quite frankly is the most important mission the Army has because if we don’t get this right, it makes all the other missions that much more difficult.”
Several who were enlisted by the Army Secretary at the ceremony were enlisted under a program known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, which allows legal noncitizens with in-demand skills to join the Army in exchange for expedited U.S. citizenship.
The program is designed to fill critical talent gaps in the service by recruiting skilled immigrants, such as individuals who are licensed health care professionals or who can speak more than one language.
“Some of the young people with us today were born in Ghana, Romania, Jamaica and the Philippines,” Fanning noted, during the ceremony. “They are the latest reflection of how America’s diversity is our Army’s strength.”
One of the enlistees, Sergio Nunez, who was born in Honduras and currently lives in the Bronx, said he joined the Army because he believes it is his “duty as an American to serve and protect the people of the United States.”
The sense of duty was not overlooked by the Secretary.
“The desire to serve and protect combined with the ability of Soldiers to make diverse teams working toward one common goal makes the Army you join today the most dominant land force in history,” Fanning said.