From Brig. Gen. Paul Owen
November is National Native American Heritage Month, honoring Native Americans and Alaska Natives, with a theme of “Sovereignty, Trust and Resilience.” What a great theme that highlights Native Americans and their many contributions that have helped make our Army and our country great.
Within the U.S. military, Native Americans have honorably fought and served, with more than 20 in the U.S. Army alone earning the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military decoration. Most have served quietly, with little or no recognition. Some have served famously, and have become the stuff of legend, movies and books, such as the Navajo Code Talkers in World War II and Marine Corporal Ira Hayes, who raised one of the six flags immortalized in the flag raising at Iwo Jima.
Their military contributions continued far beyond World War II, into the Korean War, in the 1980s, 1990’s and this century, as they saw combat in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Altogether, American Indians have earned 71 Air Medals, 51 Silver Stars, 47 Bronze Stars, 34 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 32 Medals of Honor.
Native Americans have a long and illustrious history throughout the Southwestern Division region, and their influence is still seen today. Although they comprise a relatively small number of our workforce, they are still almost one fifth of the Native American percentage across USACE. And they are our stakeholders, partners, and friends across our region.
The very names of the states within our Division all trace their roots back to American Indians.
- Arkansas, from Acansa: the name of a Quapaw Indian town and literally means “southern or downstream place;”
- Oklahoma, from Okla Homma: “Red People” in the Chowtaw Indian language;
- Texas, from tejas or taysha: “friend” in the Caddo Indian language;
- Missouri: named for the Missouri Indian tribe whose name means “town of the large canoes;”
- And Kansas: from the Kansa Indian tribe, literally “south” and meaning “people of the south wind.”
As November draws to its close, we will gather for our Thanksgiving holiday, that most American of all our holidays, and Native Americans will again be center stage. The image of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony, with Pilgrims joined by the neighboring Wampanoag Indians, is forever part of our national consciousness and forms part of the great bond that we have with as Americans.
America’s Army is highly capable and we will continue to leverage the strengths of our diverse, all volunteer force, which includes more than 9,000 Native Americans in the Total Army. Embracing and celebrating diversity makes our Army stronger, and we are dedicated to ensuring equality for all our Soldiers, Civilians and Family Members.
I encourage you to read more about Native Americans during this period of heightened awareness. More information is available about Native Americans in the U.S. Army at https://www.army.mil/americanindians/.
Mission/People/Teamwork – Pacesetter!