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Nevada Guard Diversity Day delivers 'cultural buffet'

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Emerson Marcus
  • Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs
The Nevada National Guard's Diversity Day event Thursday drew a record crowd of more than 450 people at the Nevada Air National Guard Base firehouse in Reno and highlighted the state's commitment toward creating a more inclusive force.

"It's a cultural buffet for the senses," said Alicia Nyland, the state equal employment manager. "Nevada's (Diversity Day) event has become the standard that other states now emulate."

The third annual Diversity Day featured Polynesian music, Taiko drummers, Irish dancers, 19 food booths and even German beer -- non-alcoholic beer, of course. A total of 23 booths represented cultures from around the world, up from 14 the first year in 2013 and 16 in 2014.

"We started planning this in May," said Maj. Christy Hales, the Nevada National Guard's Director for Military Family Support Services. "The biggest obstacle to overcome is getting everyone involved and take ownership. They did awesome. There were no complaints. They did everything we asked for and more.

"One of the Soldiers just came up to us and said he wants to do Ethiopia again. He didn't know anything about Ethiopia before the event."

Many Soldiers staffed booths based on family heritage. Others, as Hales noted, did it for the learning experience. After the vote tally, the Tongan booth won the award for best booth with its Sapasui (noodles), Lu (spinach and corned beef with coconut) and other dishes. It beat Argentina, last year's winner, by one vote. The booth representing Mexico finished third.

The event this year coincided with a visit from military officials of the Kingdom of Tonga, Nevada's State Partnership Program nation.

"We are honored to be here for such a great event," said Brigadier Tupou T. Aleamotu'a, Chief of Defense Staff, Majesty's Armed Forces of Tonga during his weeklong stay at Reno after spending the previous week in Nashville, Tenn. for the National Guard Association of the United States annual conference with members of the Nevada Guard.

Diversity Day is now the biggest joint force event in the Nevada Guard.

"It's about educating other people about different cultures," Nyland said. "It's about learning other cultures through music, dance, costumes and food. Things to touch, look at, taste and see."

This year, members of the Utah Guard visited with the goal of starting their own cultural event there in the future. In past years, members of the California and Colorado state guards have attended.

"Why diversity? That's a question I get asked a lot," Nevada Adjutant General Brig. Gen. Bill Burks said. "To be in the military is a privilege; it's not a right. Only about 25 percent of our citizens can actually get into the military. So we can't afford to lose even 1 percent. So diversity and inclusion are extremely important."

Nevada Guard leadership made diversity a key initiative in 2013.

"We've learned that diversity is what helps us meet the goals and objectives we are after," Col. Karl Stark, commander of the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard.

The success of the initiative was evident this week, said Brig. Gen. Ondra Berry, Nevada's assistant adjutant general who has spearheaded many diversity initiatives at the state and federal level.

"America was founded on the ideal that from many, we are one, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts," Berry said. "That is the rationale for inclusion.

"I encourage each Airman, Soldier and American civilian in 2015 to be more inclusive in your thinking, in your relationships, in your mentoring and in your continuous improvement efforts involving yourself and others."