On the evening of Thursday, July 9, 2015, more than 150 people gathered for the 6th annual NSA-Fort Meade Ramadan Iftar at Argonne Hills Chapel, at Fort Meade, Maryland.
During Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting from food and water and focusing on spiritual reflection, each day's fast is broken with an Iftar meal, meant to be shared among family and friends.
"My boss gained a little bit of respect for me today. He asked me, ‘You guys can't even drink water? You are tough!'" Chad Jones, Director of Public Affairs and Islamic lay leader at Fort Meade, said, to laughter from attendees. "I appreciate that, because when your boss respects and understands who you are, it is encouraging."
Jones' boss is COL Brian P. Foley, USA, Fort Meade Garrison Commander.
"I'm thankful for the strength that diversity and the Muslim community bring to Team Meade," Foley said. "A world where we were all the same wouldn't be a world at peace; it would be a world without a soul."
Foley thanked the event's participants, including Fort Meade Garrison Chaplain Warren Kirby, the Anne Arundel County Muslim Council, keynote speaker Congressman Andre Carson of the Seventh District of Indiana, the U.S. armed services' first Muslim Chaplain, LTC Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, USA (Ret.), NSA's Religious Affairs Office and its director, and NSA's Islamic Cultural Employee Resource Group (IC-ERG).
"This Iftar is not only interracial, but interfaith," Carson said. Carson, whose champion causes have included mental health assistance and financial counseling for military members, is the first Muslim to serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"We live in a time of deep religious divide, but I'm encouraged because of our common threads," like valuing collaboration and selflessness, Carson said.
At sundown, despite not eating or drinking water since four that morning, a traditionally dressed young man melodically recited a Quranic excerpt before the breaking of the fast. Participants then descended upon the Halal meal, which included dates, samosa, pakoras, chicken kifta kebabs, biryani rice, and chick peas.
"This event is characteristic of America's ‘united we stand' creed," said the chair of NSA's IC-ERG. "The presence of our families helps us pass down the lessons of unity and diversity."
Jones, Carson, Mohammad, and NSA and community attendees brought their spouses and children to the Iftar gathering and meal.
"My wife, daughter, and son-in-law attended the Iftar last year," senior advocate for the IC-ERG Gary Tartanian said. Tartanian is a senior technical leader at NSA.
"I serve as one of three senior advocates for the IC-ERG so that I can lend my experience, contacts, seniority, and knowledge to issues this group may encounter," Tartanian said.
As a senior advocate for the employee resource group, Tartanian provides support in any way he's needed – providing mentoring, keeping abreast of activities, supporting events, and finding solutions to challenges as a senior helping hand.
"The whole idea here is togetherness," Tartanian said. "We need to be able to understand more about other cultures. Even if we aren't part of the same spiritual culture, we are part of the same community."
NSA is committed to diversity to meet the challenges of an increasingly dynamic threat environment. Click here to learn more about NSA's equality and diversity initiatives.