FORT HOOD - Soldiers, leaders and community members from across Fort Hood and greater Texas attended a Native American Indian Observance at the Phantom Warrior Center Nov. 14.

Hosted by the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command's and III Corps' Equal Opportunity teams, the observance brought those in attendance together to recognize how Native Americans have shaped the character of our nation since its beginning.

"Throughout our history, Native Americans have defended our country and served in the Armed Forces with great courage and distinction," said Col. Allen T. Cassell, 13th ESC Deputy Commander. "Events like this are important because they give us the opportunity to reflect on our shared history as Americans and to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of all of our people."

The guest speaker for the afternoon, Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Patrick Racine, 1st Cavalry Division, is a Browning, Montana native, and was born into one of the 10 largest tribes in the United States, the Blackfeet Nation, and wouldn't have it any other way.

"Being Blackfeet means everything to me," Racine said. "I'm honored to be Blackfeet. My tribe helps me identify where I come from. I know my history and heritage."

When Racine was approached about being the guest speaker, he jumped at the opportunity.

"Being the guest speaker allows me to tell my story," Racine said. "I know that a lot of Native Americans are in the military, but I don't know if they get this opportunity to speak."

With many Native Americans in attendance, Racine greeted the crowd in his Native Blackfeet language before addressing the rest of the crowd.

Native Americans have been a crucial factor in the U.S. military's success since the beginning, and Racine reminded those in attendance of one of the most revered Native American military groups.

"Native American Code Talkers are the most recognized major contributors to the military," Racine explained. "Using their native languages they developed and memorized secret codes. With their intelligence and bravery they helped the U.S. win several key battles during World War I and II."

After Racine finished his speech, Great Promise for American Indians from Austin, Texas, performed Native American tribal dances in traditional tribal clothing before the crowd got to enjoy Native American food.

Spc. Charles Williams, 13th ESC, and a registered Navajo Tribe member, attended the observance. Williams has been to many traditional Native American Church events and this year's observance really stood out to him.

"The dances they incorporated at the observance are the same ones you will see at any Native American Indian Gathering," Williams said. "I honestly liked the event and it was the first time I've heard anyone at one speak the Native language."

Today, more than nine thousand Soldiers of American Indian or Alaska Native descent serve in our Army. They are valued members of the Army team who continue a long legacy of professionalism and selfless service.

"Native American Warriors have a long tradition of serving in the military and have participated in every major conflict," Racine said. "My fellow Blackfeet Warriors serve in every branch of the military. I serve for all people, for my people and for my Family. It's been an honor to serve our country. My only hope is that I made my ancestors proud."