FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 6, 2012) -- The Army considers its diversity as a strength, and Fort Rucker will celebrate the diversity that the Hispanic culture brings to the armed forces by celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month Sept.15 to Oct. 15.

The events, co-hosted by Army and Air Force Exchange Service and the Fort Rucker Equal Opportunity Office, will help everyone embrace the diversity of the community, said Susie Antonello, AAFES visual merchandiser manager.

"The term Hispanic can be used in referring to Spain and its history, art and culture. Hispanic Heritage is more broadly celebrated, referring to the cultures, peoples or nations with a historical link to Spain, especially those countries that were once colonized by Spain," she said.

Hispanics make up a large ethnic group within the Army, and Antonello believes that by observing National Hispanic Heritage Month with food samplings, music performances and art exhibits, Fort Rucker is recognizing the many Americans of Hispanic descent who have made contributions to the country.

"There have been brave [Hispanic] patriots who have fought in several wars that have earned the Medal of Honor for their courage. Their patriotism, valor, cultures and traditions have added to our country's character," said Antonello.

This year's theme is "Diversity United, Building America's Future Today" and the Fort Rucker community can find an array of Family-friendly activities to help honor and carry out diversity through Hispanic Heritage Month on post.

"The kickoff event is Sept. 14 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the main post exchange. The Army band Crossfire will perform Latin Salsa music, and Marta Vere and "Con Sabor" dancers will be there performing. A sampling of a variety of ethnic foods will be provided by local volunteers. Attendees can also expect to see a variety of exhibits and displays from various countries and local vendors selling art, like handmade items from Ecuador, and Latino spices and foods from Puerto Rico. Drawings will take place for couples to win free dance lessons, $25 Exchange Gift Cards and other door prizes," said Antonello.

The annual 4.1 mile Gate to Gate run will continue this year and Antonello promises the run will be a challenge for runners and be a Family event.

"The Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Hispanic Heritage Gate to Gate run is scheduled for Sept. 29 from 9--11 a.m. The run will be from the Ozark gate to the Daleville gate. Race day registration is 7:30--8:30 a.m. at the Daleville gate. From 8:30--10:30 a.m. traffic will be closed on Andrews Avenue from the Ozark gate to Third Avenue, and Third Avenue to the Daleville gate," she said, warning drivers who take that route that they will be detoured or blocked.

Free dance lessons will be offered to those who like to dance to Hispanic music.

"Marta Vere is having special dance lessons at The Commons Sept. 25, and Oct. 5, 12, 19 and 26. Vere can be reached at 618-7424 to register. The rehearsals will start at 6:00 p.m.," she said.

To end the celebrations there will be a free dance and music expo Oct. 12 at the post theater.

"The Latin Ritmo Dance & Music Expo will be from 6-8 p.m. and will feature the Hispanic Rhythms (Ritmos) of various cultures of the Latin community like Dothan's St. Columba Children's Dance group, Ron DeVane and dance group, Marte Vere and "Con Sabor" (With Flavor)," said Antonello.

The U.S. is a nation of immigrants and Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the presence of Hispanic peoples in North America.

"With so many recent immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries across the U.S., Hispanic American celebrations are important ways to foster understanding and appreciation of their contributions and rich culture," said Antonello.

By celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America Antonello believes tolerance and understanding will bring military communities closer together.

"These events educate civilians, Soldiers and Family members on different backgrounds and ethnic groups within our organization. The events are a great opportunity for the community to learn more about the Hispanic culture in a fun and relaxing environment," she said.