Fiesta at Fort Hood

Hood Herald/TJ MAXWELL - The Puerto Rican Kids Folklore group was one of many attractions Friday at the Fort Hood Hispanic Heritage Festival at Abrams Physical Fitness Center at Fort Hood. - -

By Jackie Stone

Fort Hood Herald

Staff Sgt. Armando Sanchez and Spc. Carmen Morales traded in their Army combat uniforms for slick dancing duds Friday night at Abrams Physical Fitness Center at Fort Hood.

The two natives of Puerto Rico took part in the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration on post by teaching different styles of Latin dance to the crowd, Sanchez in a suit and fedora and Morales in a short dress and high heeled shoes.

Morales taught salsa and danced in Puerto Rico before she came to the United States and enlisted. Sanchez got his teaching chops while he was stationed in Iraq.

"We made a Hispanic night at the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) center. We were dancing out there in our BDUs (battle dress uniform)," he said.

The pair danced salsa and meringue while a live band played. Children in sombreros bounced American flag beach balls while the adults around them ate and moved to the beat.

The event was hosted by Fort Hood's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation with III Corps Equal Opportunity to bring a slice of Hispanic and Latin culture to the soldiers at Fort Hood and their families, regardless of whether they were getting an education or a taste of home.

Entertainment was provided by two live bands, two traditional dance groups and comedian Shayla Rivera, who doubled as the night's emcee.

Rivera, also originally from Puerto Rico, performed at Fort Hood last year and is a veteran at playing to the troops with several tours to forward operating bases under her belt.

"My family has a big military history and I really appreciate what our men and women are doing out there, and if we can bring them a little taste of home, that's great," she said.

Of course, the subject matter Friday was nice too.

"I love being with any Latino people. A party, a fiesta - I'm there. And salsa music? Sign me up," she said.

The Killeen-based band that started the celebration Friday represented both the military and Hispanic heritage that were displayed everywhere. The six members of Grupo Son Cache consist of three active duty soldiers, one recruiter, a retired staff sergeant and one civilian. Most of the band members hail from Puerto Rico.

Juan Carlos Santiago, the band leader and timbales player, said they play around the state, but he particularly enjoys playing for the troops.

"They deserve it. They deserve good music, especially on this occasion for a Hispanic celebration," he said. "Since the Army has all different people - Latino, black, white - it's good for all of us to play for them."

While Fort Hood has held observances of Hispanic Heritage month in the past with speakers and some events, Friday marked the first time FMWR had joined in to expand the event, said Sgt. 1st Class Veronica Stuart, with III Corps Equal Opporunity advisory.

"We celebrate it every year, but this is the first time we've had a celebration," she said.

One of the most notable expansions was the range of the entertainment.

Two performance dance groups, Puerto Rican Kids Folklore and Ballet Folklorico Alegria, took the floor later to show off their moves, while soldiers turned instructor for the evening instructed audience members in Latin dance.

In addition to the performers, food and drink was available from family readiness groups. Other booths had information and recipes for people to take home.

"We want people to come out here and learn, and we want the Hispanic soldiers to get out here and enjoy themselves," Stuart said.

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