Army celebrates Hispanic American Month

By Ed Brock

Army Sgt. Yaritza Robles of Jonesboro is no stranger to salsa, but she seemed happy to take a break from the dance floor Wednesday to discuss the celebration of Hispanic culture that surrounded her.

Robles, 25, is stationed at Army Fort Gillem in Forest Park and on Wednesday she was at Gillem's parent facility, Fort McPherson in Atlanta, for an event marking the forts' celebration of Hispanic American Heritage Month.

"I think it's great. It brings the community together, a lot of our cultures, and we learn different things," said Robles who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New Jersey.

More than 100 people braved rainy weather to come to Wednesday's event that had to be moved indoors due to the weather. It was originally to be held in Jacob's Park at Fort McPherson, said military equal opportunity specialist Sgt. First Class Vernisher Bullitt said.

"If we had held it in the park we would have had more people," Bullitt said. "But it's a good crowd. We have lots of ethnic groups represented."

The Army dedicates a month to every ethnic group. In November it will be Native American Heritage Month.

Wednesday's celebration filled the air of the small meeting hall with music from the Serenata Band of Alpharetta and the spicy bouquet of exotic food dishes from simple tacos to fried plantain bananas.

"I just came out to experience some Hispanic culture and eat some good food," said Charles Lloyd of Forest Park, a civilian employee at Fort Gillem.

Lloyd said he attends many of the culture celebrations and he thinks they're a good idea.

"We work with all ethnic backgrounds," Lloyd said.

Staff Sgt. Jean Figueroa of Rex arrived in the middle of the celebration.

"It seems good so far," Figueroa said.

Dancers from the Julian-Salsa Casino dance troupe of Atlanta performed early in the event. After lunch was served they began teaching members of the audience, including Robles, their salsa-rueda style of dancing, an energetic form in which the dancers often entwine their arms while spinning around each other.

"I enjoyed it, the music was great," Robles said breathlessly after a few turns on the floor.

The Army has a strong Hispanic community, Bullitt said, and Robles and Figueroa said that Hispanics are a growing demographic.

"The military offers a lot to the Hispanic community and other cultures," Robles said. "Education and good benefits."