Throughout history Native Americans have fought for their country with honor and courage, starting with the American Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan they have served in all the nation’s wars and have demonstrated time and time again their commitment and their dedication to the nation.
November is Native American Indian Heritage Observance Month. It’s a time to celebrate the time-honored traditions, diverse cultures, and historic contributions native people have made within our Armed Forces and the role they play in enriching the charter of the nation.
This month is a good time to educate and raise awareness about the unique opportunities Native Americans have taken in American military history. In fact, between 1917 and 1918 more than 12,000 Native Americans enlisted into the armed services to serve in World War I, which was the greatest number of enlisted people from any one ethnic culture. They served despite the fact they were not granted citizenship until 1924.
The Native American has stood ready when their nation called. During World War II, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, there were 5,000 American Indians in military service. One month later in January 1942, 99 percent of eligible male American Indians had registered for the draft and were ready to go to war for the United States of America, and 90 percent of the American Indians who fought in the Vietnam War were volunteers.
“American Indian culture is a tradition of warriors, and Native American Indians still today have the highest record of military service per capita than any other ethnic group in the United States,” said Gabriel McKenna-Groves, 56th Contracting Squadron Infrastructure Flight chief and this year’s Luke Air Force Base NAIH committee chair.
In her family they have a tradition of service. Her father, who was Eastern Band Cherokee and Seneca, served in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Armored Division in WWII and retired after 27 years of service with the Army.
“I, myself, am former Army, and I’ve been a Defense Department civilian for almost 34 years,” she said.
This year the NAIHM theme, “Serving Our People, Serving Our Nations: Native Visions for Future Generations,” was chosen by the Society of American Indian Government Employees.
An example of their service and sacrifice can be found in Army Spc. Lori Ann Piestewa, a member of the Hopi tribe and the 507th Maintenance Company, a support unit of maintenance and repair personnel, who was killed during the Iraqi War. She was the first Native American woman in history to die in combat while serving with the U.S. military and the first woman in the U.S. armed forces killed in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
While traveling in a desert convoy, her company got lost March 23, 2003, and ran into an ambush in Nasiriyah. She successfully evaded enemy fire until a rocket-propelled grenade hit the front-left wheel well of the Humvee she was driving. She survived the initial accident with injuries to her head, while three other Soldiers died. She was taken prisoner along with others but died soon after of her wounds.
Piestewa, a 23-year-old single mother of two from Tuba City, Ariz., carried on the long family history of serving in the military as the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and the granddaughter of a WWI veteran had done before her.
“Native American Indians have proudly served in the Air Force since its inception, and many have given their lives in service to our great country while proudly wearing Air Force blue,” McKenna-Groves said.
Luke AFB will observe NAIHM through November with several events including a 5k fun run Nov. 16, an arts and crafts project at the base youth center and an artifacts display at the Luke Library. For more information on the 5K run or arts and crafts project, call Felicity Shorty at (623) 856-2431.