By Ms. Brittany Carlson (IMCOM)June 1, 2012
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- The Fort Leonard Wood community took a break from its normal workday Tuesday to take part in a Hawaiian-style luau in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
At the AAPI Heritage Month Observance and Luncheon, hosted by the Fort Leonard Wood and Maneuver Support Center of Excellence Equal Opportunity Office, guests walking into the Pershing Community Center received Hawaiian leis before entering a diverse world of paper lanterns, chopsticks, and inflatable Tiki poles, representing a variety of Asian and Pacific Island cultures.
"The purpose (of the event) is for members of Fort Leonard Wood to get together and remember and recognize those cultures and what they have brought to the table throughout the years, as far as being in the military … (and) take away some history," said Master Sgt. Roger Matthews, Equal Opportunity manager for Fort Leonard Wood.
The theme of the event was "Striving for Excellence in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion."
This year, 214 guests packed out the center's ballroom to sample delicacies like Hawaiian wedding cake and watch performers from the Our Hula Ohana dance group.
"Ohana means family," explained Dina Burkett, director and instructor for Our Hula Ohana.
"We have been performing for this local Fort Leonard Wood community since 2004," she said. "We just like to share our culture with everyone."
New to the repertoire this year was a warrior's dance and chant performed by boys dressed in tribal costumes and traditional Maori face paint.
Following the performers, guest speaker Mansueto Calasara Jr., a retired Army chaplain, spoke on how serving in the U.S. military brings members of many cultures together.
Calasara, who was born in the Phillippines in 1934, served both the Phillipines and the United States as a Soldier, Catholic priest and educator.
He first retired from active duty in 1996 while assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, but was called back in 2002 when the war in Iraq broke out.
He said that many service members, like himself, come from a heritage of Asian or Pacific Island culture, but all are the same in at least one respect: they want to fight for freedom and democracy.
"Today we remember our comrades-at-arms who gave the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in defense of our country, that we are all enjoying today," he said. "We are composed of many continents, many nations, but we have only one dream: unity. This (is) 'e pluribus unum': though we are many, we are one."
Following the event, 2nd Lt. Jessica Bouma, Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, said she enjoyed getting a slice of Asian American culture, along with her lunch.
"It was very nice. I really enjoyed the dancers -- I thought that they were really cute," she said. "It's just about diversity, really -- it gets you exposed to other cultures."