Hispanic Heritage Month observance informs, educates
October 6, 2011
Fort Belvoir's Equal Opportunity Office hosted the Hispanic Heritage Month observance Sept. 29, at the Officers' Club.
Opening remarks were given by Brig. Gen. Robert L. Walter, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, deputy commanding general, which was followed by the singing of the National Anthem by special guest Mairim Basel.
Walter thanked EOO for organizing the observance and commented on how Hispanic-American's have made key contributions to American history.
The singing of the National Anthem was followed by the invocation from Chaplain (Lt. Col) Joel L. Russell, INSCOM Chaplain and the recognition of Maurice Sanabria for coming up with the observances theme: "Many Backgrounds, Many Stories, One American Spirit." Sanabria, who works for the Defense Logistics Agency in Richmond, Va., was presented with a commanders coin by Garrison Commander Col. John Strycula.
Keynote speaker, Lt. General Rhett Hernandez, U.S. Army Cyber Command/2nd Army commander said he was honored to speak at the observance.
Hernandez spoke at length about his heritage, saying his grandparents emigrated from Mexico and settled small Pennsylvania town. He discussed how everyone in his Family spoke Spanish except for him because his Family insisted that he speak English so he could teach them the language.
Hernandez also spoke about not knowing where his lunch money was going to come from and eating more powdered eggs and strange milk than he wants to remember.
He never saw himself as a minority. However he was aware from teacher comments that other people did.
"To be clear, I knew I was Hispanic, and while times were hard, I was proud of who I was and of my Family," Hernandez said. "My mom was proud, a hard worker, a great teacher of values, academics and sports. I was determined to do what my mom always told me to do - work hard, be a good boy. Get out of this town and make something of yourself."
Sgt. 1st Class, Mark Roberts, EEO, Equality Opportunity Advisor found Hernandez's comments to be particularly moving.
"Motivating and uplifting," Roberts said of Hernandez's remarks. "They were very inspiring for the Hispanic-American community because he's a perfect example of what an education can do for a person."
Hernandez told his story as part of this year's Hispanic Heritage Month theme "Many Backgrounds, Many Stories, One American Spirit.
"We all come at this from our own roads. Each one is important because our Army's strengths come from our diversity and it is what makes us the best Army in the world," said the general. "I tell you this so you know I am an American Soldier and a proud Hispanic."
Hernandez also passed along some leadership messages as a Hispanic role model. Over the years he said he has asked three questions of Hispanic-Americans who have worked for him.
What does it mean for Hispanics to serve in a diverse Army today? What do you expect of other Hispanics? And what do you expect of your senior leaders?
The answers came down to opportunity, attitude and performance, and mentorship.
"I've been blessed and have had some great mentors -- some I worked directly for, others don't even know it," Hernandez said. "Together they taught me what my survey told me. Be professional, demonstrate character and Army values. Do the right thing and to be beyond scrutiny. Be a leader -- counsel coach and listen."
Sanabria won a contest to come up with the theme of the observance. Sanabria grew up in Puerto Rico and did not move to the United States until he was 24. Now 31, Sanabria said the thought process behind the theme were the struggles his parents faced while he was a child and how Hispanic-Americans want to continue to prosper in the United States.
Sanabria was also honored to have received two Army coins from high ranking Army officers.
"It's a deeply rooted Army tradition and any time you can get a coin from the Garrison Commander here at Belvoir and from the highest ranking Hispanic-American in the Armed forces it is very special," Sanabria said.
A sampling of Hispanic foods took place after the observance. Among the selection of dishes was Puerto Rican roast, Spanish chicken and shrimp Ceviche.
Sgt. 1st Class James Fontenot, Operational Support Airlift Agency, Fort Belvoir, EOA said the sampling was the first time he had tasted many of the dishes.
"The shrimp ceviche and the plantains, I tried those for the first time," said Fontenot. "I enjoyed everything I sampled very much."
Basel was honored to sing the National Anthem at such an important event and was surprised Hernandez presented her with a coin.
"I personally love to sing and to be able to be a part of the Hispanic Heritage event here at Fort Belvoir is a wonderful honor," said Basel. "I was not expecting to get a coin, and again it was a nice honor."