FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers, Family Members, Civilians and special guests gathered Sept. 23 at the Commons where they were challenged to not only appreciate the contributions of Hispanic-Americans but also to explore their own proud heritages."My presentation today is to provoke reflection, (maybe) some self-actualization," said Maj. Cruz Rivera Jr., 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy inspector general and guest speaker at this year's National Hispanic Heritage Month observance."This event reminds us of what kind of a nation we've developed into," he said. "My Mexican heritage is rich, full of traditions attached to persons, places and things. Everyone's heritage is like that. Everything is given a name. And names have value."Before Rivera's speech, organizers dedicated the ceremony to and played a video about Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Le-roy Petry, a retired Soldier with Hispanic roots. After the video, audience members were treated to a variety of Hispanic-inspired entertainment, including a mariachi dancer's vibrant interpretation of a Mexican folk song and a saxophonist's soulful rendition of a Bruno Mars song.Rivera said the immense pride he feels in his family history did not just happen overnight.His story began with an old platoon sergeant who told him more than 20 years ago that he was to attend a Native American heritage event on post at Fort Bragg, N.C.Rivera said he stared at him in confusion."I am not Native American -- I'm Mexican," he told him.But the platoon sergeant insist-ed, again and again, until Rivera complied.He said although definitely odd to him at the time, the incident ended up launching his journey of learning about his heritage."In retrospect, I think he knew more about me than I knew about myself," he said.Rivera went on to explain how Spanish-speaking exploration of the New World predated the arrival of the Mayflower in the early 17th century."The first European language spoken by natives in America was Spanish," he said. "That was in approximately 1513, (with the arrival of conquistador) Ponce de Leon."As does the histories of many other Americans, Rivera's Mexican heritage originated in Europe. In addition to Spain, he traced his family name back through France, England and Germany.Later in his speech, to explain why some things in the Dari language resemble Spanish words, Rivera pointed out the strong Arabic influences in Spain after 700 AD, when the Moors of northern Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula."Tell me if you've ever been deployed and heard (Afghans) talking," Rivera asked the Soldiers. "Tell me if some of these words pop out for you: Aceite, arroz, ado-be, algodon, camisa … all Arabic names."Rivera said the Aztec word for corn is "elote.""Elote is man-made," he said. "The Mayans helped develop it. In Afghanistan, (the) Dari word for a small stalk of corn is elote.The Aztecs of Mexico also developed the tamale, he said, as a portable, high-calorie food for battle. Wrapped in its own package, able to be eaten during movements to objectives, "I would submit to you it was probably the original MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) of the Americas."Rivera grew somber when he reflected on Hispanic-American Soldiers who were killed while fight- ing with the 10th Mountain Division (LI)."There are 33 names that should be respectfully mentioned today -- our brothers in arms from this division who have paid in full answering our nation's call," he said, fighting back tears."Remember their part in this heritage -- not just them, but all of our fallen warriors should come to mind when we say 'Climb to Glory,'" he said.Rivera ended his speech by challenging attendees to learn more about themselves, where they come from and how they may be a part of their own history."You will be enlightened, and you will appreciate it," he said. "You will understand the historical path of your surname and what it has endured over time."My hope for you is that you grow and learn and appreciate," he continued. "It will serve you well."And reflect on how you will contribute to your heritage," he added. "I will provide you a hint: It's all in your name. It's the honor that extends beyond our lifetime."In concluding the ceremony, Col. Robert A. Culp II, 10th Sustainment (rear) commander, thanked Rivera for his presentation and reminded Soldiers how diversity and an appreciation for cultures is a combat multiplier that strengthens the Army and ensures mission success."These observances highlight, at least for me, the importance of leaders knowing their people," Culp said. "Knowledge of language, culture and history can mean the difference between success and failure."On the five deployments that I have been on, in every single one of those operations, it was Soldiers' language skills, ethnic ties and knowledge of the human terrain that proved decisive," he added. "And this is going to be true in the future as we transition more to a regionally aligned force and try to achieve our national objectives working by, with and through regional partners."