FORT IRWIN, Calif. (July 25, 2012) -- The National Training Center and Fort Irwin experienced a first last week when the community came together for the installation's first Celebration of Unity during Ramadan, July 18, at Sandy Basin Community Center.

The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of Islamic heritage and culture before the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, and to foster awareness of customs in different Islamic countries, as well as providing insight into the observance of Ramadan. During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours.

Ramadan began July 19 this year, and will end Aug. 18.

Fort Irwin is home to the 51st Translator Interpreter Company, which has the one of the largest concentrations of Muslim Soldiers in the Army, as well as a one-of-a-kind mission -- to provide translation and interpretation services to Soldiers deployed around the world. All Soldiers in 51st TICO are native speakers of the languages they specialize in, and most emigrated to the U.S. from Middle Eastern countries.

Two Soldiers from 51st TICO spoke at the celebration about their experiences as immigrants and Muslim Americans living, working, and becoming U.S. Soldiers.

Sgt. Senan Zangana, a native of Baghdad, Iraq, who speaks fluent Arabic and some Pashtu, came to the U.S. in 2007 and joined the Army the following year. He had worked for American military contractors in Iraq and wanted to join the Army after seeing the good that American Soldiers were doing in his country.

"I feel like it's my responsibility to explain to people that the Iraqis, it's just a small group that is affecting the Islamic world and the Iraqi people and giving it a bad picture," Zangana said. "We are innocent people. We lived our lives, and we had a dictatorship that the United States helped us get rid of. The situation is going to get better over there."

Spc. Badia Oulim, a native of Settat, Morocco, said she was influenced to join the Army by the positive experiences of her best friend's husband, who is a U.S. Soldier. Oulim spoke to the audience about women's rights and responsibilities in Islam.

The celebration also featured Middle Eastern food and drink, including hummus, lamb kabobs, and Turkish coffee. A display featured the accomplishments of famous Muslim Americans, including TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz.