The U.S. Army Field Band Hosts Hispanic Heritage Month Observance

By TUSAFB and Fort Meade Public Affairs
The United States Army Field Band

News story photo
Photo credit: Brendan Cavanaugh
Son Tropical, the Army Field Band's 11-piece ensemble comprised of the Jazz Ambassadors, perform an array of Afro-Cuban and salsa music during Fort Meade’s annual Hispanic Heritage Month observance, Sept. 22 at McGill Training Center.
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. — The United States Army Field Band hosted a Hispanic Heritage Month Observance Sept. 22 at the McGill Training Center on Fort Meade.

More than 300 people attended the event that featured Son Tropical, the Army Field Band's 11-piece ensemble comprised of the Jazz Ambassadors. Son Tropical performed Afro-Cuban and salsa music using such instruments as the cajón, shekere, claves, timbales and red conga drums. The ensemble was joined by guest percussionist Alfredo Mojica on the quinto.

With a staccato clapping of the hands, McGill Training Center was transformed into a Latin festival of colorful displays, catered Mexican cuisine and live Afro-Cuban music and dance, which had audience members swaying to the rhythms of the rumba and cha-cha.

"We would like to pay tribute to the vibrant Hispanic culture through dialogue, music, dance and food," said Staff Sgt. Katayoon Hodjati of the Field Band during her welcome. "We will be focusing on a genre of music that came out of Africa and merged with existing traditions in Cuba. This explosive synthesis produced a highly energetic, rhythmic music called 'Afro-Cuban.’”

Two generals -- including guest speaker Lt. Gen. Rhett A. Hernandez, commanding general of U.S. Army Cyber Command at Fort Belvoir, Va. -- and Orioles legend Rick Dempsey were among the 300 service members and civilians who attended the installation's annual Hispanic Heritage Month Observance on Sept. 22. The national observance ends Oct. 15.

"This observance speaks to all the diversity in the Army and the Hispanic contributions to our Army," said Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, commander of the Joint Forces Headquarters National Capital Region and the Military District of Washington. "Our diversity is what makes our Army strong."

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the culture and traditions of Hispanics and Latin Americans who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The observance begins nationwide Sept. 15, the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries in 1821.

“The U.S. prides itself and boasts itself on the many ethnicities that are here in the United States,” said Master Sgt. Timothy Young, producer of the observance and pianist for the Jazz Ambassadors. “Observing Hispanic Heritage Month is our way to show appreciation and celebrate the many contributions that were given to us by Hispanic and Latin Americans.”
The 90-minute program also featured a demonstration of the guaguanco, an Afro-Cuban rhythm and dance, by professional dancers Aramis Pazos-Barrera and Ludmila Figueras.

During his speech, Hernandez -- the highest-ranking, active-duty Hispanic officer in the Army -- shared his experiences as the grandson of Mexican immigrants and praised the accomplishments of Hispanic service members.
He credited his family -- including his grandfather, who claimed to have ridden with Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa -- with providing him with strong values. "He put great value in hard work and commitment to family," he said.

Everyone in the family spoke Spanish but him. "My family insisted I speak English and teach them English," he recalled.

Hernandez candidly spoke of the economic hardships of his youth and the encouragement of his mother, a single parent, to pursue education and sports. "She insisted I be a participant," he said. "She always said 'Get out of this town and make something of yourself. I know this is what you want.’”

In 1976, Hernandez graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the first in his family to attend college and to serve. "The Army knew I was different and that was OK," he said. "I had the ability to serve in a diversified Army that brought me untold opportunities."

Hernandez then urged fellow Soldiers to celebrate their roots and accomplishments. "We should all be proud of who we are and what we've done," he said. "Never forget where you came from. All of the Army's strength comes from diversity and makes this the best Army in the world. I am an American Soldier and a proud Hispanic Soldier."

Hernandez then detailed the distinguished military service of Hispanics. From the Civil War to now, 44 Hispanics were awarded the Medal of Honor.
"Today, Hispanic Soldiers follow their lead and have always distinguished themselves ...," he said. "They are writing the next chapter of our proud history."

Since 9/11, hundreds of Hispanics have been awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars, while thousands have earned the Purple Heart, he said.
"During an unprecedented period in our nation's history, they are driven by more than Army values," he said. "Our roots began at home with family values. We're loyal, motivated, patriotic and courageous."

But efforts must be made, he said, to encourage young Hispanics to pursue education and military service. More than 50 million Hispanics reside in the U.S., comprising 16 percent of the population. By 2050, that number is expected to hit 30 percent, he said.

But Hispanics trail in service to the Army, Hernandez said.
"Our Army will need to recruit and retain more Hispanics to maintain the diversity that has made our Army strong," he said. "We need to attack recruiting challenges and reach more Hispanics in the military, especially in the officer corps by leveraging Hispanic values -- loyalty, pride and motivation -- while overcoming less education in the family and a lack of family tradition in military service. ... We need Hispanics to continue to provide many backgrounds, many stories, one American spirit."

After Hernandez spoke, Pazos-Barrera explained the origins of the guaguanco dance. To achieve a beat, he led everyone in a series of quick claps to the tapping of the cajón, a wooden box.
Pazos-Barrera and Figueras then demonstrated the guaguanco -- the traditional rumba is a form of guaguanco -- and encouraged audience members to join them.

"Don't tell me you can't dance," Pazos-Barrera said. "You've got two feet? You can dance. Enjoy."

Dressed in white, the Cuban-born duo continued dancing to the music of Son Tropical as audience members filled their plates with chicken wings, taquitos, quesadillas and guacamole catered by Chevy's.

"There is something very visceral about Latino music," said Lt. Col. Edmund J. Barrett, commander of Headquarters Command Battalion, during the program. "It's fun. It makes you want to get up and dance."

The infectious beat lured Pedro Viera, a property manager for the Defense Information Systems Agency, from his lunch to the dance floor.

"It's the music -- that's what it does to you," said Viera, who emigrated as a teen from his native Dominican Republic in 1974 to the Bronx, N.Y. "I am familiar with the music and dance from home. I grew up with it."

Sgt. 1st Class Eric Padron of First Army Division East recorded the presentation for his Cuban-born parents residing in Tampa, Fla. "We grew up with traditional Cuban music, so seeing it today is awesome," he said.
As the fiesta winded down, maracas were distributed as several participants discussed the program.

"Hernandez's speech was awesome, the way he acknowledges and embraced his heritage," said Bronte Stewart, an inspector general for Army Cyber Command. "It really brought home the theme of Hispanic Heritage Month.”

"We have a great band, very talented, very classy. I like the interaction with the audience and seeing the various styles of dance. And the food was awesome."

Carolyn Dade, a paralegal for Army Cyber Command, has attended every Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on post for nearly 10 years. "Each year they get better," she said. "Each year, they add a different layer and make it more interesting. It draws you back every year."

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