FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- Since the Revolutionary War, Hispanic-Americans have served in defense of the United States of America, and continue to do so 241 years later. Approved by the President, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, the month-long observance of Hispanic heritage from Sept. 15, to Oct. 15 has been carried on for nearly 50 years throughout the United States. Of the more than 310 million Americans in the U.S., nearly 55 million are of Hispanic descent. Diversity runs rich within the soul of the nation, and in its Army, which includes over 64,000 Hispanic-Americans in service.Fort Irwin held a celebration to mark the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 14, 2016. U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Vidal, senior enlisted advisor, Regimental Support Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, shared his experience in both the civilian and military environment as a Hispanic-American of Puerto Rican descent, and spoke on what Hispanic Heritage Month means to him at the observance ceremony being held at the Sandy Basin Community Center here."From the American Revolution through Iraq and Afghanistan, Hispanic Americans have fought bravely for our nation. But their contribution to our Army goes beyond their time in service," said Vidal. "It was amazing to be side by side of all the ethnic groups and no one judging me. It was just one Soldier talking to another Soldier, preparing to fight for our country if called upon."To retain equal opportunity and an atmosphere of respect throughout the Army, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated as a period of gratitude and appreciation across the service branch. In the past 30 years, the representation of Hispanic-Americans in the Army has increased by 10 percent, as opposed to 1985, when it was a dwindling, 3 percent. Army leaders want to create conditions to foster and sustain a culture where Soldiers can have a military career and the most opportunities to reach their full potential.Following Vidal's speech, Sgt. Yolanda Duarte, RSS, 11th ACR, along with Soleil Montejano, preformed a Mexican Folk Ballet dance for the attending leaders and Soldiers of Fort Irwin. Concluding the event, Fort Irwin's Culinary Specialist Team presented the leaders and Soldiers with traditional Hispanic cuisine, including Empanadas De Carne, Crispy Flautas, and Chorizo Fried Beans to offer a "taste" of authentic Hispanic culture.