29th ID Soldiers host Diversity Day at Fort Belvoir

The Virginia National Guard’s Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division hosts a Diversity Day event sponsored by the state Equal Opportunity Office June 21, 2014, at the Wallace Theater on post. While this year’s theme was Native American culture, there were also displays and food samples from other various cultures that treated the Soldiers and their family members. The Red Crooked Sky American Indian Dance Troupe performed several dances and songs dedicated to the service members. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Miko M. Skerrett, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

The Virginia National Guard’s Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division hosts a Diversity Day event sponsored by the state Equal Opportunity Office June 21, 2014, at the Wallace Theater on post. While this year’s theme was Native American culture, there were also displays and food samples from other various cultures that treated the Soldiers and their family members. The Red Crooked Sky American Indian Dance Troupe performed several dances and songs dedicated to the service members. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Miko M. Skerrett, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

FORT BELVOIR, Va. – The Virginia Army National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division, based at Fort Belvoir, Va., hosted a Diversity Day event June 21, 2014, at the Wallace Theater on post. Displays, speakers, dance performances and food samples treated the Soldiers and some of their family members to various cultures. In its sixth year, the Virginia National Guard’s Equal Opportunity Office designated this year’s event to showcase Native American culture.

“We celebrate Diversity Day to raise awareness and educate members of the Virginia National Guard about how many different people make up the organization and how all those different people have contributed to the success of the organization and the country,” said Capt. Kervin Sider, the Virginia National Guard’s full-time Equal Opportunity Advisor.

Upon entering the theater, two mannequins with traditional clothing were on display, along with tables that lined the walkway behind the last row of seats with interactive and tangible displays. Poster boards, flags, instruments, articles of clothing and handouts covered the tables that were each dedicated to a different country. In addition to these displays, there were also tables with presentations devoted to women’s history and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history and future in the military. Food samples from various cultures were also available to the Soldiers.

Sider opened the event with a few remarks before Spc. Benjamin Gooch, 29th Infantry Division, and his wife, Abigail Gooch, sang the national anthem. Chaplain (Capt.) Rebecca McNeely gave the invocation and Brig. Gen. William R. Phillips, deputy commanding general of the 29th Infantry Division, spoke to the audience.

“When we look at life, we should be receptive, respectful and adaptive,” said Phillips. “Through diversity, units can elevate to a higher level of effectiveness because of the different perspectives each Soldier can bring.”

The Red Crooked Sky American Indian Dance Troupe performed several traditional dances for the audience, while being narrated by Keith Colston, who also performed. Based out of Southeastern Virginia, six members of the dance troupe were present, representing tribes that included Lumbee, Lakota, Lenape, and others. Colston began the performance by asking the audience to stand while the group performed a song for veterans, dedicated to the host unit.

“It is always our protocol to show respect to our military, to our warriors; to those who are willing to leave their encampments, their communities, their land to travel to others so that they may defend their family, their homes and their way of life,” said Colston. “These songs are sung to allow those that have served during peace time or war time, stateside or overseas, for conflicts known to the public or maybe unknown to us, and to honor those individuals. We remember that without our military, our life could not be as it is.”

To demonstrate how similar the Native American culture is to the military, Colston made connections between the dance troupe’s regalia and the Army combat uniform. For example, the eagle feathers that adorn the head piece of one of the dancers is similar to the rank and patches on the uniform of a Virginia Army National Guard Soldier. Colston also gave the audience the troupe’s perspective on the American flag.

“Many ask when we bring the [American] flag into our gatherings, ‘Wasn’t there once a time when that flag may have hunted your people down?’ We answer, ‘The flag is representative of a country that is shared by many. This is our home land,’” said Colston. “This is why we as Indian people have served more than any other ethnicity, by ratio, in our military forces. Because this is our land, and this is a land that is shared by many ethnicities.”

One service member in the audience was Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, the Virginia National Guard Land Component Commander.

“This is a great event for our Soldiers,” said Ortner. “The most important part is that we were able to introduce the Soldiers to something they might not have ever had the opportunity to experience, and for everyone to understand that it is our differences that make us stronger.”

Another audience member was Pfc. Gary Ma who emigrated from Vietnam to the United States with his parents in 2003. Ma, a supply specialist with Headquarters Company, 29th Infantry Division, considered the event to be very important to the military as a whole.

“Diversity is definitely important,” said Ma. “In my unit, we have a lot of different cultures and backgrounds represented. We like to share the different sides with each other; what our cultures say we can or cannot do and why. It’s very interesting to find out how similar we really are.”

“It’s important to know where our Soldiers come from,” said First Sgt. Remus Trent of Operations Company, 29th ID. “The backgrounds and cultures that have shaped our Soldiers have also shaped our military.”

Diversity Day doesn’t have to be for just one day in the year, added Sider. Units can contact the Equal Opportunity Office for more information on hosting a diversity event for their Soldiers.

“When a unit can host a Diversity Day event over a drill weekend, Soldiers who only drill on weekends get a chance to experience the educational and entertaining events that are available to all members of the Virginia National Guard,” said Sider.

Photos: 29th ID Soldiers host Diversity Day- June 21, 2014