CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION Q-WEST, Iraq - Hundreds of Soldiers filled the Morale, Welfare and Recreation center here Jan. 18 to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with an observance hosted by the 15th Special Troops Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

The observance included a performance by the Anointed Voices of Liberty Choir, an explanation of the origin of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a slide show about King's life, a video of his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, and words by guest speaker Col. Larry Phelps, 15th Sust. Bde. commander and Greenville, Ala., native.

The choir, which sings for chapel services, sang several spirituals including "We Shall Overcome" as part of their arrangement and during the observance's closing.

Sgt. Railin Isaac, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 15th Special Troops Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, orderly room noncommissioned officer, explained the origins of the celebration which was first observed Jan. 20, 1986 but was not observed by all 50 states until 2000.

"It is one of four United States holidays to commemorate an individual person," Isaac said.

She also mentioned that during the campaign to make the day a federal holiday, 6 million signatures were collected in favor of the issue, the largest petition of its kind in U.S. history.

After the video of the "I Have a Dream" speech, Phelps said that he hoped everyone paid careful attention to it.

"... the 1,642 words that changed the nation that changes the world. Only 1,642 words, but words of such value, such impact, that they changed the course of the an entire nation," Phelps said.

He also said that King was one of America's founding fathers; he just came along later than the others in history. He encouraged the Soldiers to look to King as role model to emulate in character and values, and his courage to stand up for what was right.

"I remember going to a segregated school. I remember white and negro water fountains," Phelps said.

"And I remember the feeling of great sadness, of great loss we all felt when, on 4 April 1968, we heard the news of his assassination in Memphis."

After the observance Sgt. 1st Class Yetta Stewart, 15th Sust. Bde.'s equal opportunity advisor and Ann Arbor, Mich., native, explained why she believed that the day was so important.

"We want people to understand that Martin Luther King fought for equality for everyone," she said, emphasizing that the color of the person's skin didn't matter.

"It makes us culturally aware of racism and discrimination," Stewart said.

She also said that some people are a "product of their environment" and that additional education may help them overcome negative inclinations.

"We are all Americans and we are all the beneficiaries of Dr. King's dream," Phelps said.