CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION Q-WEST, Iraq - "One of our primary rules is to work hard; play hard," Col. Larry Phelps, 15th Sustainment Brigade commander, said to a group of service members after he danced the Bachata.

That's right, the Bachata, the hip-swinging dance from the Dominican Republic.

The "Wagonmasters" and the 2nd Battalion, 198th Combined Arms, hosted a
Hispanic Heritage month luncheon at the main dining facility here Oct. 10 that included Hispanic foods, a poem, slide presentations, music, a guest speaker, and dancing.

Sept. 15 - Oct. 15 is Hispanic Heritage month by congressional law and yearly presidential proclamation.

"I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United Sates to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs," Sgt. Railin Isaac said as she read the presidential proclamation. Isaac is from Headquarters Company, 15th Special Troops Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, orderly room noncommissioned officer and a Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic native.

Sgt. Sandylane Rodriguez, from Humacao, Puerto Rico; Sgt. Elizabeth Whitehead, from Los Angeles; Sgt. 1st Class Andrea Parris, from Lancaster, Pa., native; and Isaac did a dance routine involving several styles of Latino dance and music while wearing colorful, traditional dresses.

Later, they were joined by Alex Cruz, logistics warehouse contractor and native Honduran living in Los Angeles. Cruz teaches a free Salsa dancing class at the Morale Welfare and Recreation building here at 8:00 p.m. every Friday.

They took turns dancing with Cruz and each other to a wide array of music before picking senior officers and enlisted Soldiers from the audience to dance with.

Guest speaker Master Sgt. Francisco A. Morales, liaison officer and Dominican Republic native, spoke on "embracing the fierce urgency of now," a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote and the celebration's theme this year.

"This year's theme recognizes the strength and hard work of Hispanic Americans and how their contributions make our nation more vibrant and diverse," Morales's speech began.

He gave a brief history of the observance which started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week and later became a 30-day-long celebration beginning on Sept. 15 - independence day for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua as the now-dissolved Captaincy General of Guatemala. Sept. 16 and 18 are Mexico and Chile's independence days respectfully, and Columbus Day, Oct. 12, also known as Dia de la Raza, fall within Hispanic Heritage month.

Morales said that this year's theme was a call to action to bring equity to Hispanics in federal government positions. Morales said that Hispanic Americans are the only minority group still lacking representation in that arena and that it is time for a change.

The event's program had examples of Hispanic Americans who have broken barriers such as Sonia Sotomayor, first Hispanic American Supreme Court justice, retired Lt. Gen. Edward Baca, former National Guard Bureau chief, Cesar Estrada Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers of America, and Ellen Ochoa, first Hispanic female astronaut.

"We are so close now to making history. Let us not look back at this moment and say we had the opportunity, but we did not act. Let us not, in years to come, say we acted - but too late. Let us instead - together - complete this task of generations, by embracing the 'fierce urgency of now' - today," Morales said in closing.

Many people, Soldiers and civilians alike, volunteered to make the event possible.

The Soldier's dresses were handmade largely by Spc. Gonzalo Medina, laundry, shower, and textile specialist.

Medina, a Bayamon, Puerto Rico, native also controlled the music and slideshow presentations for the event.

"I'm Hispanic ... I got to represent wherever I go," he said.

Not all of the volunteers where Hispanic either. Parris said she did it because she knew how to dance.

Maj. John B. Herd, MWR director and Florence, Miss., native, was pleased with the volunteer support.

"Having lived in South America for several years, my hope for the event was that it would bring forth all the rich aspects of the Hispanic culture that many may never experience; art, language, natural beauty and cuisine. The event far exceeded my expectations thanks to the time and talent of many volunteers."