JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Service members and civilians sat side by side in unity at the McChord Collocated Club, Sept. 18, to commemorate National Hispanic Heritage Month during a luncheon hosted by the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Equal Opportunity staff office and I Corps.

The Hispanic-American Heritage Month Committee, JBLM Libraries and the Fort Lewis Military Museum set up educational displays in the club's lobby.

Master Sgt. Shaun Coker, equal opportunity leader, 42nd Military Police Brigade, introduced this year's observance theme as "Diversity United, Building America's Future Today," recognizing and celebrating the history, culture and contributions of Americans who trace their ancestry and culture to Spanish-speaking countries, regardless of race and dialect.

"America's cultural diversity has always been a great strength of our nation," Coker said. "The Hispanic-American community has a long and important history of commitment to our nation's core values, and the contributions of this community have helped make our country great."

Hispanic-American Heritage Month runs every Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. It encompasses the national day of Spain, El Dia De La Raza (the day of the race), and the independence days for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Chile.

Chaplain John Konugres, a native of San Diego, 508th Military Police Battalion, 42nd MP Brigade, said the invocation in both English and Spanish and thought it's important to know some Spanish to function in today's society.

In honor of tradition, Sean Ragudo and Desiree Grosman, both professionals from the Arthur Murray School of Dance, performed a rumba and salsa.

Also entertaining were Marco de Carvalho, a Brazilian musician originally from Rio de Janeiro, and percussionist Jeff Busch, who played two songs: "The Girl from Ipanema" and "San Vicente."

As guest speaker, Honorable Judge Veronica Alicea-Galvan, municipal court, Des Moines, Wash., helped visualize the impact service members have in America in a speech she presented during the luncheon.

"You, the members of our military, more than any other persons who serve must understand the obligation that being an American places upon you," Alicea-Galvan said. "Often times being an American requires you to defend an ideal rather than a belief. You are the guardians of the tapestry that is America, of the diversity and richness of all her people. You provide the opportunity for all people who come to America to embrace the possibility of the fulfillment of the American dream."

According to the Office of Army Demographics, Hispanics make up 11 percent of the Army's active-duty force.

"Leading the charge in many ways are individuals, including many Latinos and Latinas, who serve or had served in the military," Alicea-Galvan said.

Certificates of Appreciation and unit coins were presented to the entertainers and Lt. Col. Robert Davel gave the judge a wooden gavel, made by prisoners at the Northwest Regional Correction Facility, as a token of appreciation for her speech.

Specialist Bobby McMichael, a member of the I Corps honor guard said that many organizations outside the Army take diversity for granted and do not participate in cultural observances.

"I think it's great that the Army takes the time to recognize the differences of their distinct team of warriors," McMichael said.

Alicea-Galvan said it could be tough for the melting pot of residents in our nation to maintain their individuality and opinions.

"It is not easy to be a citizen of America," Alicea-Galvan said. "You must accept the idea that I may not agree with what you say; but I shall stand by your right to say it."

Even though this year's luncheon came to an end, the celebration of Hispanic heritage continues to give a better understanding and appreciation of the roles American Latinos have in the fabric of the United States.

Page last updated Fri September 21st, 2012 at 00:00