Reflect on influence Native Americans have had on military, country

  • Published
  • By Capt. Justin Ellsworth
  • 721st Communications Squadron
Most of us relate to fall with the changing of the leaves, football Sunday's and the air getting just a bit crisper outside but for those who may not know, November serves as an important time for our great nation as we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month.

As we prepare to spend time with our families this month it is important to recognize and reflect on the significant contributions that Native American's have made to our military in defending our freedoms - not just as individuals but through their culture and philosophies. It is befitting that this year's theme for National Native American Heritage Month is "Native Pride and Spirit: Yesterday, Today and Forever."

Native American history is limitless and trying to summarize all of the incredible contributions from medicines to philosophy in a short paragraph would be an insult. As a communicator myself, I chose to focus on one of the more prevalent stories of Native American's fighting in World War II, as they provided secure communications to our Marines in the Pacific.

I am of course talking about the Navajo Code Talkers that were instrumental to the Marine's successes in the Pacific Theater. The Japanese were an incredibly intelligent adversary during World War II and masterminded complex attacks on our forces, but one thing they were never able to decipher throughout the entire conflict was the Navajo Code. One must wonder what the outcome of the Pacific Theater would have looked like if it wasn't for the sacrifices made by Native Americans. One can also wonder how many more service members may have lost their lives if it was not for the code. In fact, a 5th Marine Division Signal officer, Maj. Howard Connor, said that "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima."

As we move into the present, I had the opportunity to sit down with Army Sgt. Daniel LaForge who serves as an ammunitions sergeant for India Forward Support Company, 1-38th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson.

LaForge, a seven year combat veteran with three deployments under his belt, is originally from Montana where he is a proud member of both the Crow and Blackfeet Native American tribes - two nations rich in tradition. A humble family man with aspirations of becoming a warrant officer; he can sum up what his heritage taught him in one simple but powerful word - respect.

As he matured at a young age, LaForge learned to respect those around him for their cultural differences. He learned to respect those who paved the way for him, he learned to respect himself. As a Native American, he feels his roots have brought him empowerment and a great sense of pride about serving his nation, especially in the Army. What struck a significant cord for me was when I asked him what he thought about Native American Heritage Month and he simply stated "every day I celebrate being a Native American." These morals and values are rich in traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation that he will pass down to his children.

As I alluded to earlier, one of the larger impacts that we have learned from Native Americans is their fighting warrior spirit that we as a military will carry with us forever. With the ongoing crises across the globe from terrorism to medical epidemics, our country has turned to our military forces - both military and civilian - to answer the call. As warriors, it will require great strength and courage to defeat these threats as we look toward securing the future.

In 1996, the Department of Defense conducted a review of "20th Century Warriors" with a focus on Native Americans that determined they "are no different from others who volunteer for military service. They do, however, have distinctive cultural values which drive them to serve their country. One such value is their proud warrior tradition." It is the ideals and principles of Native Americans that will carry our men and women into future engagements with a distinct advantage over our adversaries.

Let's all take time this November and reflect on the influence that Native Americans have had on our military, our country and most importantly our future. From the moment the Native Americans lent a helping hand the Pilgrims to present day, their cultural values, traditional morals and native pride reigns supreme.