ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- More than 150 Rock Island Arsenal personnel learned about efforts to promote Hispanic communities and cultural identity in the Quad Cities area as part of RIA's Hispanic Heritage Month Observance, here, in Heritage Hall, Oct. 6.

Lee Vasquez, executive director, Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, spoke about his organization's efforts to promote businesses and community health for one of the fastest growing demographics locally and in the nation.

"Locally, from the 2000 to 2010 census, the Hispanic population in Scott County increased 42.6 percent, and in Rock Island County, 42.8 percent," he said.

Vasquez said the Hispanic population in the U.S. is economically influential. He said Hispanics start new businesses three times faster than the national average. He added that Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. contribute about $600 billion to the national gross domestic product per year.

"These numbers are why we are here, the Hispanic chamber," he said. "We are the only minority chamber in the region, and we are the only Hispanic chamber between Iowa City and Chicago."

The Glenview Middle School Mariachi Band played three songs at the event. Rick Clark, the music teacher who leads the band, talked about this school's efforts to promote Hispanic and Latino cultural identity.

"We started this program at Glenview because 33 percent of the school population, or over 440 students, are of Hispanic or Latino descent," said Clark. "We started two years ago with 13 students, and as of the past week when we started our beginners, we now have over 70 in the program."

Clark briefly talked about Mariachi musical history and the history of the songs the band played.

Col. Lance Koenig, chief of staff, U.S. Army Sustainment Command, said it is important for the Army to embrace diversity.

"It's important to learn about the diverse backgrounds that we all come from, and how that diversity makes us strong," said Koenig. "It makes a strong organization; it makes a strong country.

"The United States Army is one of the most diverse organizations in our nation," he continued. "We have representation from nearly every group and culture that is present on the globe, and I think that is something we can be proud of."

Hispanic American Heritage Month was established in 1988 and officially runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The theme this year is "Embracing, enriching and enabling America."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the term "Hispanic" refers to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race." According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, Hispanics and Latinos represent 12 percent of active duty Department of Defense service members in 2014. They also represent about 17 percent of the U.S. population.

Koenig presented the middle school students with certificates of appreciation on behalf of Maj. Gen. Edward Daly, commanding general, ASC. Brig. Gen. (Promotable) Chris Gentry, deputy commanding general support, First U.S. Army; Col. Kenneth Tauke, RIA garrison commander, U.S. Installation Management Command, and Koenig presented Vasquez with a plaque and a coin.

The U.S. Army Sustainment Command Equal Opportunity office sponsored the event.

Hispanic food was also available for attendees to sample.