FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- As sounds of the Far East filled the ears of shoppers and lunch goers, people also got a taste of cultural diversity during and observance to celebrate the differences that make the nation stronger.

Fort Rucker kicked off Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a celebration at the post exchange May 5 that included food, dancing and a bit of educational enlightenment on why diversity is important in today's Army, according to Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Castillo, 110th Aviation Brigade equal opportunity adviser.

"[Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures'] rich heritage continues to span the world in the depths of American history," said the EO adviser during the kickoff. "Generation after generation, [they] have forged a proud legacy that reflect the spirit of our nation -- a country that values the contributions of everyone that calls America home.

"Through times of hardship and in the face of enduring prejudice, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have persisted and forged ahead to help strengthen our [nation's] union, and despite their difficulties and struggles, they have sacrificed to build a better life for themselves, their children and Americans as a whole," he continued. "Today as we commemorate Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month, we pay tribute to all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have strived for a brighter future for the next generation."

The theme for this year's observance month is, "Unite Our Voices by Speaking Together," and reflects the struggles, achievements and aspirations that Asian American and Pacific Islanders have endured to shape the country people have come to know, said Castillo.

One way to show that unity through diversity was by celebrating the cultural traditions, ancestry and unique experiences that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have contributed.

"Approximately 16.6 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders live and work in the United States, and comprise about 5.4 percent of the U.S. population," said the EO adviser. "They have deeply impacted our society in all facets of American life, thriving as athletes, public servants, scientists, artists and many who have served and continue to serve in our nation's military."

Throughout the observance, people were able to get a taste of traditional Asian cuisine, witness and hear traditional cultural song and dance performances, and even get the chance to learn a bit of Chinese culture and calligraphy.

For some, like Jeremiah Langenkamp, retired military, the ability to learn from different cultures is part of what builds the strength of the U.S.

"I think that a lot of time people forget about each other's differences, which can be a good thing, but at the same time, I feel like it's important to know where certain contributions come from," he said. "We need to understand that we need other cultures and other points of view to make us better than what we are. It's hard not to look at the differences between different people, but you have to be able to see the strengths in those differences, and that's what I feel that people need to celebrate."

Lauren Tuttle, military spouse, agreed and said that without the differences in culture, this country wouldn't be what it is today.

"Diversity is what makes up this country," she said. "I, myself, am part Korean, and I know that without the openness of diversity in this country, I might not even be here," adding that her family has a long line of military service.

"I'm proud of my heritage and proud that my family has served, so we need to recognize when those contributions and sacrifices are made, so it brings us together to show us what we have in common -- the willingness to fight for what is right," Tuttle said.