FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker and the 1st Aviation Brigade kicked off African American History Month with a celebration at the post exchange Feb. 2 to highlight the contributions that African Americans have made throughout the nation's history.

The kick-off event featured a guest speaker, traditional African-American cuisine, musical performances and even a fashion show, but aside from the entertainment aspect of the event, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Castillo, 110th Avn. Bde. equal opportunity adviser, said the event was meant to educate those in attendance.

"National African-American Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the essential role they have played in our nation's history," he said "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. The importance of having these observances is to learn about each other, so what we do is we try to bring those different cultures to them so that they can get a taste of it."

One way people were able to learn was through retired Air Force Col. Roosevelt Louis, who spoke on the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen throughout World War II and the legacy they left behind.

Louis, who was a graduate of Tuskegee University, was able to get to know many Tuskegee Airmen during his time in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

"All of my original instructors in ROTC were Tuskegee Airmen and they are the folks who raised me in the Air Force," he said. "All of the Tuskegee Airmen always taught us to give back, especially to young people. It's important because the Airmen taught lessons that we all need to know and I try to pass them on."

For Trisha Yearling, military spouse, the celebration gave her an even greater sense of pride.

"As an African-American woman, I see all of these people throughout history and it just makes me feel good inside to know how much we've contributed to the growth of this country," she said. "This is part of our heritage, not just as African Americans, but as Americans, and I think that all of us can share in that success.

"That's why I think it's important to highlight all of these achievements -- not to separate one race from another, but to show what we can accomplish when we come together," she continued. "There is so much we can learn from other cultures that it would be foolish not to try. Ultimately that's what I think these celebrations are about -- coming together."

To continue the observance throughout the month, 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.

"There will be crafts and we'll 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 at The Landing Feb. 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 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, and 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.

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