SOUTH CHINA SEA - Sailors and Marines aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month with a cake cutting ceremony held on the ship's mess deck Oct. 12.
The celebration, hosted by Bonhomme Richard's multi-cultural committee, recognized Hispanic culture, war heroes, celebrities and political figures and included guest speakers who shared their personal experiences.
The event was held in conjunction with the national month-long Hispanic heritage observance that began Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15. This year's theme is "Diversity United, Building America's Future Today."
"I think that it's important that we recognize all cultures in the Navy," said Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuel) Raymond Valentin, a guest speaker during the ceremony. "With the Navy being the most diverse branch of the military and myself being Puerto Rican, I am grateful that we can honor those (Hispanics) who came before us."
The tradition of observing Hispanic Heritage began Sept. 17, 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson designated a week in mid-September as National Hispanic Heritage Week. Twenty years later, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended that week to a month-long observance.
"This program creates awareness to all aboard about what really makes our Navy special and powerful," said Operations Specialist 1st Class Angel Velez. "It's the diversification of everyone accompanied by our ability to move aside differences for a common goal of maintaining our rights and freedoms that our families are able to enjoy every day."
The Navy's work force reflects a vast diversity. Today, there are more than 58,000 Hispanic active duty and reserve Sailors and nearly 15,000 Hispanic civilians who serve in the Navy's total force, including four Hispanic flag officers and 172 Hispanic master chiefs.
"Hispanics consist of a large sector of the minorities in the Navy," said Velez. "And to see the Hispanic community recognized really makes me feel that I am considered part of the Navy family."
The Bonhomme Richard ARG is currently participating in Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) with the 31st MEU and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). PHIBLEX is an annual bilateral exercise held in conjunction with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and is designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and develop professional and personal relationships between U.S. and Philippine forces.
The Bonhomme Richard ARG, commanded by Capt. Cathal S. O'Connor, is comprised of amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard,amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and amphibious transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD 9) and is currently operating in the 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility.