Virginia Guard celebrates 5th Annual Diversity Day

The Virginia Guard celebrates its 5th Annual Diversity Day June 20, 2013, at Fort Pickett, Va. The event included entertainment by the Heart of Ireland School of Dance, an Irish dance academy in Midlothian, Va., and from Dakine Ohana Productions, a Polynesian production company dedicated to sharing contemporary and Traditional Polynesian culture. The event was attended by Virginia Guard senior leaders, Soldiers and employees and attendees sampled traditional Polynesian and Irish food after the presentations. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The Virginia Guard celebrates its 5th Annual Diversity Day June 20, 2013, at Fort Pickett, Va. The event included entertainment by the Heart of Ireland School of Dance, an Irish dance academy in Midlothian, Va., and from Dakine Ohana Productions, a Polynesian production company dedicated to sharing contemporary and Traditional Polynesian culture. The event was attended by Virginia Guard senior leaders, Soldiers and employees and attendees sampled traditional Polynesian and Irish food after the presentations. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – The Virginia National Guard celebrated its 5th Annual Diversity Day June 20, 2013, at Fort Pickett, Va., with ethnic cultural displays and presentations, along with a sampling of traditional Irish and Polynesian foods.

“I want to tell you that one of the key themes that we have for the Virginia National Guard, is that we are a diverse organization and that we want to bring the talents of all individuals together so that we can be the very best that we can be,” said Brig. Gen. Janice Igou, the Virginia Guard’s director of interagency operations and president of the diversity council. “And in case you didn’t know,” Igou added. “We are the best in the nation on a lot of the areas that we’re evaluated on.”

The first performance during the event was from the Heart of Ireland School of Dance, a Midlothian-based dance company. The dancers hailed from two of the school’s dance companies, Celtic Beats, with dancers age 7-11, and Celtic Pulse, with dancers age 11 and up. The dancers performed variety of soft and hard shoe dancing and started the performance with reels, dances that are performed at all levels, usually with two dancers at a time.

“Each dancer does the steps they feel most shows off their strengths,” explained Aleise Matheson, from the Heart of Ireland School of Dance.

The second set of performers were from Dakine Ohana Productions, “a multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural family” who aim to “share authentic traditional and contemporary Polynesian culture with others,” according to the event program. The performance included a variety of Polynesian dances, live music and, near the end of their presentation, audience participation. Event attendees were invited to learn a few Hawaiian-style dance techniques with the help of the groups’ dancers.

Both performance groups were presented with a Minuteman status by Capt. Amelia Coppage, the state equal employment manager, as a token of gratitude.

“These events are important because it brings us closer together and shows us that, although we have differences, we’re really more alike than not,” said Coppage.

After the performances, event attendees were treated to food samplings highlighting the flavors of the Irish and Polynesian cultures. Traditional Irish food items, including shepherd’s pie, were provided by the Herb Cottage, located in downtown Blackstone, while the Polynesian food samples were provided by Dakine Ohana Productions and included spring rolls and Hawaiian-style meatballs.

The 29th Infantry Division Band was on hand to play the National Anthem at the start of the ceremony, as well as to provide musical accompaniment during the food sampling.

For the first time at Diversity Day, resource tables were set up to allow Soldiers, Airmen, Virginia Guard employees and other event attendees the chance to learn more about programs that could potentially help further their careers in the Virginia Guard.

“This year we brought in resource representatives, such as [Officer Candidate School], the warrant officer program and education,” explained Coppage. “By bringing in our resource representatives today, it allowed the Soldiers and Airmen an opportunity to talk to those representatives and that can allow them to enhance their skills and even advance their careers within our organization.”

Along with representatives from OCS, WOCS and the state education office, resource representatives from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, or ESGR, and human resources were also on hand at the event to answer questions or provide assistance to Soldiers and Airmen.

“I thought everything went well today,” Coppage said. “By having these events, people are able to learn something new about other cultures which creates a more unified and culturally competent organization.”

Photos: Virginia Guard celebrates 5th Annual Diversity Day — June 20, 2013