FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Nov. 27, 2013) -- Twenty-three years ago, President George H.W. Bush formally signed into law a resolution designating November as "National American Indian Heritage Month." The theme for the 2013 commemoration is "Guiding our Destiny with Heritage and Traditions."

Members of the Fort Sam Houston and surrounding communities gathered together Nov. 16, in honor of National American Indian Heritage Month, during the 14th annual "Honoring of the Veterans Pow Wow" at the Fort Sam Houston Teen and Youth Center.

The event was organized by Sgt. 1st Class Adam Mayo, program manager and equal opportunity advisor for U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), along with his fellow Fort Sam Houston equal opportunity advisers.

"It is important to honor and recognize the great contributions Native Americans have made to our nation," said Mayo.

The idea to celebrate the contributions American Indians have made to the nation started in 1915 when Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, pursued endorsements from 24 state governments for the nation to set aside a day to honor the nation's American Indians. Even though his request was turned down by the majority, several states set aside one day a year in their recognition.

The pow wow has traditionally been a way to invite the community to celebrate and take part in American Indians culture and experience it firsthand.

"A pow wow is a gathering of people to honor and celebrate a specific event," said Erwin De Luna, president of the United San Antonio Pow Wow Inc. "In the past, they were held to celebrate a successful war or hunting party, to celebrate someone's life after they died or to celebrate a birth or marriage."

The event, which featured songs and dances from various tribes, honored the contribution that American Indians have made to the military.

"Military service is important to us," said De Luna. "As a group, Native Americans have had a higher percentage serve in the military than any other ethnic group in the country."

Rolando Monsivais, equal opportunity specialist for Joint Base San Antonio, said one of the reasons so many American Indians choose military service is because the culture values they learned growing up in their society were very similar to the military's.

"There is a direct value link between Native Americans and the Army values," said Monsivais, a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, who served in the Army for 21 years. "I was raised to respect people, do what is right and help people. These are the same values that the Army teaches.

"So, when I joined the Army, it was easy," Monsivais recalled. "I had lived these values my entire life. The Army just polished them up for me."

The American Indians tradition of service and honor also led others, such as Staff Sgt. Frankie Albert, a nodal network systems operator-maintainer with Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 106th Signal Brigade, to join the military.

"My father was in the Army, and I grew up hearing about my uncles, who served as code talkers during World War II," said Albert, a Navajo.

During World War I and II, the United States used various Native American languages to transmit coded messages around the battlefield. While the enemy was aware of this, they were unable to break the codes due to the difficulty of learning the languages and dialects. The most famous group of code talkers were the Navajos in the Pacific theater.

While the relationship between American Indians and the American government has, at times, been strained, American Indians have a distinguished legacy of service to the nation. Their contributions to the nation have shaped our land and national character. Twenty-four American Indians have been bestowed with the Medal of Honor, and thousands of others have served and continue to serve in our military.

"It is part of our culture to serve and protect the ones we love," said Albert. "We love our nation -- and we want to protect it.

Page last updated Wed November 27th, 2013 at 00:00