Fort Irwin First Sergeant talks about life within and outside a tribal reservation
December 24, 2013
By Leslie Ozawa
FORT IRWIN, Calif. (Dec. 24, 2013) -- "It completely blindsided my family," said 1st Sgt. Taylor Tahbo of Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, about his decision to join the Army in 1999.
Tahbo had just completed his freshman year at Arizona Western College in Yuma, Arizona, when he made his decision. The next day, the recruiter drove about 60 miles from the recruiting station to Tahbo's home on the Colorado Indian Tribes Reservation, about 40 miles south of Lake Havasu City.
Most of the 300,000-acre reservation is in Arizona, but a portion of it is on the California side of the 40-mile stretch of the Colorado River that runs the length of the reservation. The desert landscape is very much like Fort Irwin, said Tahbo, except for a half a mile of mesquite trees and plants on both sides of the Colorado River.
There, Tahbo, his older brother and two sisters grew up on the reservation which the U.S. government created in 1865 to relocate "Indians of the Colorado River and its tributaries" according to the reservation's website. The reservation was originally designated for the Mohave and Chemehuevi tribes, who had lived in the area for centuries. People of the Navajo and Hopi Tribes were relocated to the reservation in later years.
Tahbo is of Tewa and Hopi (two of several Pueblo tribes of northern New Mexico) ancestry, but was raised mainly through the Tewa traditions of his father, who owns a small landscaping business and is a director of the tribal water company.
"Lot of the things in the songs that we sang, and the language my father taught me when I was growing up, was all Tewa," Tahbo said. "I understand a lot of general words. When my father talks to me, I can understand it very well. The language requires a lot of hand gestures and body motions."
While his brother and sisters went on to professional careers after graduating from major universities in Arizona and New Mexico, Tahbo found his life's journey within the Army. The recruiter told Tahbo he could rappel out of helicopters with the 101st Airborne Division. "It sounded pretty exciting to me, so I went for it," Tahbo said.
Since his first duty station at Fort Campbell, Tahbo has signed up for as many military schools as he could. He has completed FRIES (Fast Rope Insertion/Extraction) and SPIES (Special Purpose Insertion/Extraction), Master Reconnaissance School, and ranger and drill sergeant schools. "I love training soldiers. I love learning, so a big part of my career has been all the school opportunities," Tahbo said.
As an infantryman, Tahbo has deployed to Macedonia-Kosovo in 2001 and to Iraq during the 2003 invasion. He has also served as a drill sergeant and a Ranger Instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia, before being assigned to Fort Irwin in 2010.
Tahbo sees a lot in common between his Tewa culture and the Army.
"A lot of both are about having respect for each other, having respect for the earth," Tahbo said. "You have priorities. You have things that you know need to happen, in order for your family to be taken care of. It's the same values that non-Native American homes try to instill in their kids.
"We have very strong family ties. Everything we did was as a family. Not just my immediate family with my siblings, but also my father's brothers, all of their children, my grandparents, first cousins, second cousins, and third cousins. It seems like every weekend, we were all together," Tahbo said. "We get together for dinners, for everything, birthdays, for mournings of loved ones who have passed."
Now that he is stationed about three hours from his reservation home, Tahbo tries to take his family to visit the reservation when he can, especially so they can learn about the Tewa culture as well as to remain close to his extended family on the reservation.
About his 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, Tahbo said, "I know enough to pass the Tewa traditions and customs to them, but when we go back home, they really get a lot of it, because my father and his brothers and all of the family are still on the reservation. They still live exactly like I did when I was growing up. My kids get pulled into it and they enjoy it."
In an interview for a video produced for the Native American Heritage celebration on Fort Irwin, Tahbo summed up the relations between the Army and the Native Americans. "There are 50,000 Native Americans in the military, the highest rate of any ethnic background. Thousands are giving back to their community. We are a very driven people, just like everyone else. The stereotypes, they are long gone."