ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - More than 150 Rock Island Arsenal personnel gathered together for food, music and an educational presentation to honor Hispanic contributions to the United States and its Armed Forces at Heritage Hall, here, Oct. 3.

Guests sampled a buffet of Hispanic foods - which included tacos, churros, beans, rice and horchata (cinnamon rice drink) - before listening to a performance by the Sonora Sozon de Antona (Old School Flavor) band.

Guest speaker, Dr. Nancy "Rusty" Barceló, former president, Northern New Mexico College, thanked RIA officials for inviting her to speak and the opportunity to recognize her father's service in the U.S. Air Force.

Barceló said Hispanic culture and contributions are woven into America's development, and the efforts by the Hispanic community inspired her to educate others about those efforts.

"I reflect on their continuations, not only in the grocery stores or on our dinner tables, but more importantly, to the economic well-being of our entire country," Barceló said.

The Hispanic population of the United States was 55 million (17 percent of the total population) as of July 1, 2014 - making people of Hispanic origin the nation's largest ethnic or racial minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Barceló also reflected on the immense contribution of Hispanics to American national defense, citing Hero Street in Silvis, Ill.

"And I thought of Hero Street, U.S.A., in Silvis, Ill., and I remember learning that over 100 Mexicans in one block served in the Armed Forces, because they believed it was their patriotic duty - like my father did.

"And within that block, unfortunately, eight of them died during WWII and the Korean War," Barceló said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.2 million Hispanics have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Barceló and the Senora Sazon de Antano band were thanked for their contributions during the observance.

Col. Steven Allen, ASC Chief of Staff, presented plaques to the Senora Sazon de Antano band for their performance, and to Barceló for her remarks.

"To Omar and the entire band, a tremendous performance and representation of the diversity in our Hispanic Heritage.

"To Dr. Barceló, thank you so much for coming and giving us such an inspirational message. You truly are on the forefront of diversity and inclusiveness causes around the country … your career speaks for itself and we are honored to host you today," Allen said.

Allen said diversity is a crucial part of the Army and the United States; and observances like Hispanic Heritage Month, among others, bring us together.

"I believe that it is important because it brings people together from all walks of life, and different backgrounds, to accomplish our goals in life and in our Army.

"Among many benefits, this promotes new innovations and new approaches on tackling issues and bettering the lives of Americans," Allen said.

Each year, the Department of Defense has observed Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions to the United States by people of Hispanic heritage.

Hispanic citizens are identified as having descendants of Spanish, Mexican, Caribbean, or Central and South American origin.

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