By Spc. Justin Snyder
4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq - Soldiers of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division celebrated Hispanic American Heritage Month with a music and dance performance at the Forward Operating Base Kalsu entertainment stage, Sept. 19, 2008.
The Soldier Hispanic Heritage Dancers performed merengue, bachata and salsa dances while teaching the crowd the history and Hispanic heritage of the dances.
Spc. Luis Ochoa, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Inf. Div., provided music for the event.
National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 until Oct. 15 and was first celebrated in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week. The celebration expanded to a month-long celebration in 1988 by then President Ronald Reagan.
Sept. 15 is significant to Hispanic heritage because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and 18.
This year's theme for the month is "Getting Involved: Our Families, Our Community, Our Nation."
Following the dancing, Maj. Mario Caycedo, 703rd Brigade Support Bn. surgeon, spoke to the crowd. He came to the U.S. at the age of six from Colombia.
He spoke about his life in the Army as a Hispanic person and of the many other heroes who have served in the military. He said that many heroes in Iraq have been Hispanic, but that we all work together as one unit.
"It will not matter where you have come from once you are in the Army," said Caycedo, speaking to the crowd. "All we will know is who you are - and that is an American."
Ochoa, a native of Laredo, Texas, said he was glad to participate in the event.
"It's [Hispanic Heritage Month] definitely important because it gives us the chance to educate other people on our background," said Ochoa, whose family is from Mexico. "It's also important to remind ourselves where we came from as individuals."
Overall, Caycedo is very proud of his heritage and even more proud to be an American Soldier.
"People ask me all the time what I want to be called. Do I want Latino, Hispanic, etc.," said Caycedo. "My response is, 'Call me an American; better yet, call me an American Soldier.'"
The events concluded with the playing of the Army song, the 3rd Inf. Div. song, "The Dogface Soldier." The participants then received a certificate in recognition for their hard work.
Additional Hispanic Heritage Month events planned at FOB Kalsu include a Hispanic Heritage Month movie night, featuring "My Family," at the Kalsu Stage, Sept. 26, 2008, beginning at 8 p.m. and a Hispanic Heritage Display and cake at the Kalsu dining facility, Oct. 3, 2008, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.