By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs
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The 392nd Army Band’s Mandatory Fun subgroup, led by Sgt. 1st Class Willie Baez on percussion, entertains the crowd during the Hispanic Heritage Observance Day event at the Lee Theater Oct. 5. Sponsored by the 59th Ordnance Brigade, the show highlighted the various contributions of Hispanics to American culture through spoken word and music.FORT LEE, Va. – Latino contributions to the nation were acknowledged and its culture, music and dance celebrated during the Hispanic Heritage Month Observance here at the Lee Theater Monday.
The annual event, hosted this year by the 59th Ordnance Brigade, was part of the National Hispanic Heritage Month observance that runs Sept. 15-Oct. 15. The Lee celebration featured remarks by Col. Jeffery Carter, commander, 59th Ord. Bde., and performances by the Latin Ballet of Virginia and Fort Lee’s own 392nd Army Band.
Retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Luis Diaz was the guest speaker.
More than 300 military members and civilians attended the event to include most of the installation leadership led by Maj. Gen. Darrell K. Williams, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee commanding general, his wife, Myra, and Command Sgt. Maj. Terry E. Parham Sr., CASCOM CSM.
Carter opened the show – highlighting the military achievements of Hispanic fighting men and women throughout American history – and later touched upon broader perspectives relating to the country’s success.
“Our nation overall is much stronger today because we embrace diversity and value the strength and breadth of experience among all who come to America,” he said.
The theme for this year’s observance – Hispanics: A legacy of history, a present of action and a future of success – was evident in the short film presentation that served as a visual timeline, the show’s colorful program and the presentations, performances and speeches.
A first indication the show would be different, the programs were styled like passports and stamped upon entrance into the theater as if a trip awaited. It featured facts pertinent to the Hispanic-American experience and included two pages of visa impressions from countries located in the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Once inside, the 392nd’s subgroup Mandatory Fun entertained the audience prior to the listed performances with Latin music that included salsa, bomba and merengue. The tunes were later punctuated by an energetic LBV trio – the teenaged Betancourt-Sotolongo siblings – who pranced and danced across the stage to percussion-heavy music.
The master and mistress of ceremony, 1st Lt. Juan Bonnet and Staff Sgt. Melissa Gauthier, filled in the transitions with historical facts, achievements and thoughts meant to help convey the pride and strength of the Hispanic-American experience.
During one passage, Puerto Rico-born Bonnet said, “The Hispanic community is very diverse within itself,” referring to the many countries and cultures that make up Latin America. The Brazilian native Gauthier immediately followed with, “We’re both Soldiers ready to win the fight on any battlefield, but with every ceremony, every formation and every deployment, we bring our culture.”
Then in unison they announced, “And we’ll always be proud to be Hispanic.”
Lastly, Diaz shared his experiences growing up on the island of Puerto Rico and his journey as a Soldier. The former director, Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic School at Fort Jackson, S.C., talked about the influence of his father, a Korean War veteran, the notion of strength through diversity and the powerful unity of purpose the Army inspires.
At the show’s conclusion, the audience responded with a standing ovation. Many then filed into the theater lobby for a lunch buffet featuring foods popular throughout the Hispanic community.