FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 30, 2010) -- Soldiers, civilians and Family Members honored Hispanics for enriching the fabric of America during Fort Drum's annual National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration Thursday at the Commons.

The event, sponsored by the Division Equal Opportunity Office, featured songs, food and a special dance presentation by a Texas-based group called Ballet Folklorico Alegria.

"Today's theme is heritage, diversity, honor and integrity - the renewed hope of America," said Sgt. Jose Ramon, this year's guest speaker. "When I look at these four concepts with regard to a theme, I see them coming together like four unique players in the game of life. When we talk about hope, we talk about staying in the game, and you stay in the game, even if you are down by several points.

"The Hispanic culture has been a resilient culture and has stayed in the game," he continued. "It has been a part of the American culture since its inception."

Ramon is a medical lab specialist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md. He grew up in poverty in Mexico, but he said he learned as a young boy about the value of hard work while laboring alongside his mother, a migrant worker.

"My mother wanted a better life for her children," he said, "and she stressed the importance of faith, family and education."

Before joining the Army, Ramon spent several years working to achieve his GED, associate's degree and eventually a bachelor's in psychology from the University of Houston. Last year, he received his master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland. As a licensed social worker, he has been accepted into the Ph. D. program at the Institute of Clinical Social Work.

Ramon said even when civil rights were not at an optimal level in the U.S., immigrants, such as Hispanics, continued to show their allegiance to the country.

"Regardless of propaganda that gets sensationalized, Hispanics have always found pride in the United States of America," he said. "Hispanics still hold dear what it means to be free and what it means to rise to the challenge."

One aspect of Hispanic Heritage Month is to appreciate the music, language, art, food and dance of the Hispanic people, Ramon said.

"Hispanic heritage is an important observance because it allows the opportunity for others to hear the positive impact the Hispanic culture has had on America," he said. "The ability (for immigrants) to integrate in a culturally competent manner is necessary, because it reduces barriers and it brings people together."

Ramon took time to stress the universal value of having resiliency and perseverance while going through life.

"What do you do when hope seems to have passed you by'" he asked. "There are two options - give up if you have been rejected, or drive on and try again. If you drive on, and if you keep pushing yourself, and you are active in the process and learn to gain strength from missed opportunities, that determination will increase your chances of making a comeback.

"Through hardship, through suffering, one learns to appreciate the little things, such as being able to pay your rent, to eat when you are hungry and to drink when you are thirsty," Ramon added. "These are the things that most of us take for granted, but it is when you learn to appreciate these little things that you become more motivated to try harder, because your basic needs are satisfied and it is time to reach for the sky."

Ramon noted Hispanics have served in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War, and that 43 Medal of Honor recipients were Hispanics who served during World War II, Vietnam and current conflicts.

"(Why) are we celebrating Hispanic heritage'" Ramon asked. "It is celebrated because so many (Hispanic-Americans) have contributed to American culture and so many have fought and died to help secure the freedom of this wonderful nation. We celebrate it today because at one time it was not something to be proud of and we remember how in those times, Hispanics continued to enrich the nation.

"Remember today's themes of heritage, diversity, honor and integrity," Ramon continued. "These are the players that restore hope. Live by the Soldier's Creed (never give up, never accept defeat and never quit) and resiliency - don't quit on life and don't quit on your dreams."