FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 24, 2013) -- Many men and women from various ethnic groups and cultures answer the call of Army service, and Fort Rucker celebrates its diversity during Black History Month in February.

Celebrating the Army's diverse culture is important, according to Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Emery, HHC 1st Aviation Brigade, because understanding each other is an important piece of the puzzle to how the Army moves forward.

"It is important to understand the cultural differences to help us come together. Celebrating Black History Month is just one way to help bridge that gap," he said.

Several events will be held to bring the community together to celebrate the achievements of African-Americans, to celebrate cultural diversity and to educate the public on historical events.

The main exchange, in conjunction with the Fort Rucker Equal Opportunity Office, will host the post-wide African-American History Month kick-off event Feb. 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the main exchange mall area.

"The kickoff event will consist of exciting performances, art vendors and complimentary food tastings. The New Jerusalem Church of Christ of Enterprise will provide engaging performances including chorale singing, praise dancing and several soloist performances. Their choir will perform an array of selections ranging in style from spirituals to contemporary gospel," said Susie Antonello, visual merchandiser at Fort Rucker Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

In addition, retired Air Force Col. William Saunders, an inspirational speaker and author, will be present at the event to speak about his book, "Are You Stuck in Traffic?"

"The [kickoff] event will have crowd-pleasing prizes ranging from exchange gift cards to beautiful artwork for customers to enter to win. Like all commemorative occasions, it's also a great excuse to have fun --and maybe learn some things you never knew before," she said. "These spirited, enriched events create awareness and appreciation for diversity in our country while promoting culture, racial harmony and continued remembrance of African-Americans' contributions."

The EO and Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation will have other events throughout the month for the community to enjoy.

Feb. 2 is the DFMWR 5k/1-mile fun run at the Fortenberry-Colton PFF starting at 9 a.m. On Feb. 21 there will be a luncheon at The Landing with guest speaker Georgette Norman, the director of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. And Feb. 22 there will be an observance field trip to the Rosa Parks Museum and Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery.

"These events often get misconstrued as trying to bring together African-Americans, but a lot of the goal is to bring together people who are not black so they can learn about the African-American culture. We want everyone involved so everyone can learn," said Emery.

Black History Month is a time to honor the contributions African-Americans have made to every area of the country's life, said Antonello, adding that the exchange is proud to join the nation in honoring the achievements of African-Americans through its events.

"We are honored to be a part of bringing the learning experience to our patrons. It also gives us an opportunity to salute African-American men and women who served in the military. They played a vital role in the African-American struggle for freedom and equality in our American culture," she said.

Celebrating the achievements of black Aviators helps spread diversity, acceptance and knowledge throughout the Army, according to Emery.

"We all know about the Tuskegee Airmen, but there are so many others who have helped not only the Army but the country move forward," he said. "Bessie Coleman was the first black woman pilot. She had to go train in France because no one would accept her here in the 1920s. There is also Dr. Louis Jackson who was the first director of the training fort over the Tuskegee Airmen. He opened Harlem Field in Chicago before he was asked to be the director of the Army Air Force 66th Flight Training Detachment."

The United States has a unique challenge because of its diversity, but Emery said that is what makes its military so strong.

"When you look across the rest of the world, look at the challenges they don't face because everyone looks the same, everyone speaks the same language, they all do the same things and they all have the same cultural backgrounds.

"We have the most diverse culture within any fighting force in the world. So understanding our cultural differences and learning to work together is a critical part of doing our job and perform at our maximum potential," he said.

When it comes to being a melting pot of culture, Emery said America should strive to be more like a fruit salad.

"I don't want to change people's cultures to where we all acculturate. We don't need that. What we need is an understanding of our differences and working better together," he said.

One way of accomplishing that, according to Emery, is through the military child.

"The military child gets a wonderful look at cultures around the world. It is healthy for them to see those types of things, because when they come to an area like we are in, in the South, it is important to get out into the communities and spread cultural diversity and one way that happens is through our children mingling," he said.

Spreading new ideas and beliefs can inspire people in many ways, he added.

"It can help children dream more and dream bigger, and seeing new things and other cultures helps inspire that," he said.