The tradition of American Indian warriors serving the United States military was celebrated Nov. 12 during the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood National American Indian Heritage Month Celebration at the John B. Mahaffey Museum.

The 1st Engineer Brigade sponsored event, themed "Growing Native Leaders: Enhancing Seven Generations," included a luncheon featuring American Indian cuisine and special presentations. Participants took part in viewing a video presentation about American Indian veterans and the observance featured two guest speakers.

Col. Heather Warden, 1st Engineer Brigade commander, said more than 22,000 American Indians serve in the U.S. military, equating to almost 1.7 percent of the total force. She also said there are more than 150,000 American Indian veterans living today.

"Native American warriors have been an integral part of our nation's fighting force for (more than) 200 years," Warden said.

One of those warriors, 1st Sgt. Richard Oxendine, Military Police Senior Leaders Course first sergeant, spoke to the audience about his experiences in the military and the warrior traditions of his tribe.

"I never had any intention of joining the military but knew it was the best thing for me," Oxendine said.

The Robeson County, North Carolina native, grew up in a place that was 91 percent American Indian. Robeson County and the surrounding counties are home to 55,000 members of the Lumbee Tribe, of which Oxendine is a member.

Oxendine said he left behind everything he ever knew and stepped into something much greater than himself.

"The diversity of the people was astonishing to me," Oxendine said. "I realized the majority of my friends would never experience anything like I had. I had been given an opportunity to do so much more with my life so I ran with it."

After serving a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan, in August 2010, members of his tribe presented him with the Warrior's Eagle Feather in a small ceremony at his parent's home.

"It was such an honor to know I was among a small number of Lumbee Indians who had participated in conflicts dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War to receive this award. Throughout history, Native American tribes have honored those who serve in ceremonies before they leave and upon their return. I remember a feeling of satisfaction knowing that I made the people of my tribe, and most importantly my Family, proud," Oxendine said.

"Native Americans are no different from anyone else who serve and volunteer in our military. We do have distinct cultural values that drive us to serve our country with a proud warrior tradition," he said.

Raymond Red Corn III, assistant principal chief of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, also served as a speaker at the event. The public servant shared stories about the Osage nation's history and about their love of veterans.

"We take a long view of history, but especially as it relates to our veterans. Every year in June we dance to honor veterans," he said.

The tribe hosts several dance events each year, and many of the dances performed by the nation's members honor a different veteran.

Red Corn said Maj. Gen. Clarence Tinker, the first American Indian to obtain the rank of major general and the first killed in World War II, was an Osage Indian and one of the veterans they honor each year.

"Singers commit to memory hundreds of songs and many of those songs are for veterans. For every song of a veteran killed in action, Osages, to this day, stand and remain standing for that song … until the drum quits," Red Corn said.

According to Red Corn, more than 120 Osage Indians served in the U.S. military during World War I.

"That doesn't sound like very many until you consider our entire population of men, women and children was only 2,000," he said.

Red Corn said the long history of service was part of the reason he participated in the installation's celebration. He also noted that the installation was part of the tribe's original homeland, as the Osage Indians lived here more than 1,500 years ago.

"That is part of the reason I am here today in this place where our people lived over 1,500 years ago. We seek long-term relationships with you here at Fort Leonard Wood," Red Corn said. "We also seek to renew cooperation in exploring and preserving our history in this place where our past and hopefully our futures are intertwined," he concluded.