WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 17, 2013) -- Soldiers and Pentagon civilians danced to sounds of a Latin beat, as the Army kicked off its Hispanic Heritage Month observance.

"Son Tropical," the Army Field Band's ensemble that specializes in Latin rhythms, performed in the Pentagon courtyard, Sept. 16, to celebrate and honor Hispanic Americans and the many contributions they have made to the Army.

Under Secretary of the Army Dr. Joseph W. Westphal thanked the ensemble for coming out to perform. He said different cultures and ethnic backgrounds are what made the United States great.

Westphal, who was born in Chile, shared the story of his own background, saying his mother would say he was doing so well in life because he had "a lot of diversity" in his blood.

He said she ingrained in him the importance of diversity and said that his German and Spanish ancestry could possibly include Arab, Jewish and African blood.

"It is that diversity that I think gives us tremendous capacity to expand our minds and be more creative and innovative," Westphal said. "If you look at our Army, it is the most diverse force ever, anywhere in the world. It is that diversity that makes us so strong and so effective."

Son Tropical is a unique group made up of members of the various components of the Army Field Band, said the commander and conductor of the field band, Col. Timothy Holtan.

Members take time in addition to their main assignment, such as with the Jazz Ambassadors, to be a part of Son Tropical, he said.

"It's really an outward gesture of their love for the music and the idiom, which is what the field band is all about, using music to reach out and connect to the American people," Holtan said.

As the music wafted through the courtyard, Soldiers and civilians moved to the beat, tapped their feet, and twirled to the rhythm.

The performers said they enjoyed sharing the Latin sounds and seeing the audience take part and dance.

"Today was great," said Sgt. Maj. Jeff Lopez, a bass player whose main assignment is with the Jazz Ambassadors.

"It was a pleasant opportunity to share the Hispanic culture with other service members," he said. "Everyone was enjoying themselves, with a smile on everyone's face and lots of people moving around enjoying the beat."

You can't help but get up and dance when you listen to this kind of music, said Master Sgt. Timothy Young, a pianist who also plays with the Jazz Ambassadors.

"This was a lot of fun," he said after the performance.

"This is exciting music. I think if you are feeling down or not in the best mood, I think this kind of music gives you energy and hope," he said.

It is always nice getting the immediate feedback and seeing audience members dance and enjoy the music, said Sgt. 1st Class Katayoon Hodjati, a flutist in the Concert Band.

"You see people dancing, singing along, teaching each other dance steps, smiling and tapping their feet," she said.

The music brings together people of all ages and ethnicities, whether service members or civilians, she said.

"They were all dancing together," Hodjati said. "For this style of music, you really don't need to know anything about it to be able to enjoy it. It really speaks to the heart."

The performance was a hit with the service members and civilians who took a break from their day to enjoy the upbeat sounds.

"We should start off every Monday morning like this," joked one Army officer.

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The start of the month coincides with the Independence Day of several Latin American countries -- Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico marks its independence on Sept. 16, while Chile celebrates on Sept. 18.

Page last updated Tue September 17th, 2013 at 00:00