DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah --Every year in November, we, as a nation reflect on the contributions of our first Americans and how they shape our culture and character.
Francis Bahe lives in Grantsville, Utah. He was born and raised on the Navajo Indian Reservation east of Flagstaff in Arizona. His home was framed by red-streaked mountains and a canopy of azure-blue sky.
Bahe has worked at Dugway for more than 20 years. He serves as a test control officer for the Combined Chemical Test Facility at West Desert Test Center.
"I love what I do here, it's rewarding and important for our nation," Bahe said. "What I like best is the satisfaction of knowing that our customers are pleased with our work. As a test control officer, I ensure the test components are accounted for prior to testing, the test goes as planned and is completed on schedule."
That's a lot of words from Bahe, a tall, quiet, and controlled man, who doesn't see a need to fill up space with a bunch of words. He sits comfortably still for this interview, leaning back in a chair, the only movement is in his dark eyes that catch a flicker of light now and again.
This year to commemorate National Native American Month, Bahe will sit on his horse Roy, a lariat clutched tight in his fist and a Piggin' String clinched tightly in his teeth, waiting for a calf to bolt for a tie-down event. He will be a senior competitor at the Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada, for four days in November.
To understand what fuels Bahe's rodeo passion, one needs to know something about his boyhood heroes, Roy Cooper of Oklahoma, and Jake Barnes of Texas, both legends of Pro-Rodeo.
These are men he respects for their skills in a roping arena and in life. Cooper was a Sport Hall of Fame winner and eight time world champion roper winning the Triple Crown in tie-down, steer roping and all around titles in 1983. Barnes is a seven times rodeo champion, who said he was born to swing a rope.
But Bahe's character was formed by his mother, Maryanne, and molded by is maternal grandparents, John and Louise.
"I was always taught to respect my elders, the land and the animals. As a man, my grandfather me showed how to be a good husband and father," he said expressing deep gratitude for all he learned from his example. "I love to ride the wide-open miles, I got that from my grandfather too."
Bahe didn't know much about his father as a boy, but is now strengthening that heritage and connection.
His father, Jones Benally, has been a noted hoop dancer for 75 years. He has served as a cultural ambassador for the Navajo culture and song. He was honored by the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. and the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.
Recently, Bahe helped his youngest daughter, Brenna, who is the 6th grade, prepare a presentation featuring her grandfather for her school. It was important to pass that heritage to her, he said.
Ask Bahe about his daughters: Cassie, who attends the College of Southern Idaho, Anna, at Weber State in Utah, and Brenna. He will quickly show photos of them in thigh-high waders along the Provo River in Utah with fishing poles in hand as they angle for Rainbow Trout.
"That's a really great spot," he assures with a grin, pointing to the picture on his phone. But don't ask where the photo was taken. The spot is a highly prized family secret.
The measure of a man is in what truly inspires him. For Bahe it is his heritage. "I honor the past and the future," he said, then he adds a critical caveat, his wife Laurie. "She brings out the best in me."