Observance lauds Hispanics' military sacrifices
Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward and wife, Joyce (right), perform the salsa with Sgt. Alex Ruiz and Spc. Sarah Gonzalez during the Hispanic Heritage Month Observance.

STUTTGART, Germany -- When the salsa band started playing at the Hispanic Heritage Month Observance Sept. 18, even Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, and his wife, Joyce, got up and danced along.

The observance, hosted by the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart in the Swabian Special Events Center on Patch Barracks, kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Each year in the U.S., observances such as this one are held to celebrate the culture and traditions of Hispanics - those of any race who can trace their roots back to Mexico and other Spanish-speaking nations of the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Before the guests kicked up their heels for a 'Salsa Night,' however, the guest speaker, retired Maj. General Alfred A. Valenzuela, reminded them of the proud history that Hispanic people have had while serving in the U.S. military.

"Hispanics have a lot to be proud of," he said. They have served in every American war. Today, there are 200,000 Hispanics serving in the military. "A lot of folks haven't stood up to be counted, but a lot of Hispanics have," he added.

Valenzuela also encouraged fellow Hispanics to remember their heritage. "We all dance differently. We all sing differently. We all eat differently," he said. "But we are a tremendous ethnicity, and we ought to be proud of who we are."

Valenzuela himself has numerous accomplishments to be proud of; he is the sixth Hispanic to become a general officer. Some of his career highlights include serving as commander of the U.S. Army South, and as a Latin-American politico-analyst at the National Security Agency.

He was recently named one of the "100 Most Influential Hispanics" by Hispanic Business Magazine.

Valenzuela's speech touched Staff Sgt. Johnathan Fuselier. "It shows how rich the USA is, because all different types of people from around the world support one Army," he said.

The food samplings were diverse as well, including dishes such as Arroz con Pollo (chicken with rice) and Puerto Rican Tostones (fried plantains).

Sgt. 1st Class Chrysti Lassiter-Jones, the USAG Stuttgart equal opportunity advisor, said she hoped people left the event with a better understanding of Hispanic people. "It's a whole lot more than music, sports and entertainment," she said. "The culture is so rich and diverse."

The salsa band, directed by popular artist 'Mambo Kingo' was the highlight for Clara Hayes, civilian spouse. "It's hard to listen to this music and not want to dance," she said.

Page last updated Mon September 28th, 2009 at 05:56