FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker will highlight and celebrate the contributions African Americans have made throughout American history with a month-long observance.

Fort Rucker and the 1st Aviation Brigade Equal Opportunity Office will kick off African-American History Month Feb. 2 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the post exchange to educate people on the contributions that African Americans have made throughout the nation's history, said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Castillo, 110th Avn. Bde. equal opportunity adviser.

This year's theme for the observance month is "African Americans in Times of War,' and highlights the contributions that African Americans have made throughout the various conflicts in U.S. history, said Castillo.

The event will feature cultural singing and dancing, as well as food and entertainment provided by volunteers.

The Fort Rucker Education Center will also host a small education expo during the kickoff to highlight the various educational opportunities available to those on the installation.

"I feel that education is the cornerstone of diversity and I believe through education we can bring each other together," said the EEO adviser.

In addition to the kickoff event, the Center Library will host a story time and craft session Feb. 9 from 10:15-11 a.m. where children will get the opportunity to learn about the contributions of African Americans throughout the nation's history.

"We'll do crafts and talk with the children about the culture itself and the contributions that they've made, and also why it's important to be one rather than be divided," said Castillo. "I think if we can catch them at a young age and they're taught when they're little, then we can bridge that gap early. It's very difficult to change someone's mindset once they're set in that mindset, but if we can catch them when they're young, and show them that everybody is equal and we treat each other with dignity and respect, then I think that will go a long way for future generations."

The main observance for the month will be a luncheon Feb. 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Landing. It will feature guest speaker 1st Sgt. Anthony Thomas, Lyster Army Health Clinic first sergeant, who will speak about his experiences as an African American in the military.

Tickets for the luncheon are $12 and menu choices include barbeque chicken, grilled salmon or vegetable lasagna. Each meal will be served with vegetables, rice or potatoes, and will be served with sweet tea, coffee and water.

Space is limited, so people should reserve their tickets early, said Castillo.

Although many of the observances are meant to entertain those who attend, the main focus is to educate people not only on the contributions of African Americans, but of all Americans throughout history, said the EEO.

"The importance of having these observances is to learn about each other," he said. "People are afraid of the unknown -- they're afraid to get into things that they don't understand with different cultures, so what we do is we try to bring those different cultures to them so that they can get a taste of it, then maybe they can go explore it on their own.

"I think that's the only way we're going to bridge that gap and bring people together," Castillo said. "We try to center (these events) around the education aspect rather than the entertainment aspect. The entertainment and food are always great, but our aim is to actually get people to open up their minds and start learning about other cultures."

For more information or for tickets, call 255-2363, 255-2669 or 255-9950.