By James BrabenecNovember 22, 2019
FORT SILL, Oklahoma, Nov. 22, 2019 -- A full house of post leaders, service members, and civilians gathered Nov. 21, to observe National American Indian Heritage Month at the Patriot Club.
The festive luncheon included a variety of individual, small and big group dances by the Comanche Nation Youth Dancers.
Guest speaker, recently retired Lt. Col. Mark Woommavovah is the senior military science instructor at the University of Oklahoma's Army ROTC program.
Woommavovah opened his speech encouraging the warriors seated around him to be positive in all they say and do. He then invited all present to give each other a fist bump and a reminder to be a positive warrior.
A Comanche Indian, he also refers to himself as an Indian runner and a Soldier for life, certainly a fit one. Woommavovah said people should live each day like it is their last day alive.
"Knowing your time is limited in life, think very carefully of how you will spend it. Don't waste it living someone else's life or letting the opinions or beliefs of others drown out your own inner voice. Most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition," he said.
For Woommavovah, following his heart also coincided with running. Like his ancestors who swiftly trod the Great Plains, the slim Army officer's running shoes barely impacted the ground around the world. Whether in South Korea, the Caribbean, Hawaii and other Pacific Ocean islands, Central America, or across the continental United States, his running remained a daily activity.
It was after finishing a morning run in Hawaii, a stop into a local book store provided him a way to be a positive warrior. Overhearing group laughter, he came upon a children's book reading and instantly thought writing a children's book was something he could do.
Just as promptly, he decided running would be his subject and idea formulator as he carried 3inch by 5-inch index cards on runs and jotted down ideas.
With an assignment change to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Woommavovah wrote out his manuscript for his children's book, "The Little Indian Runner." He then researched how to self-publish while he looked for an illustrator. He came upon James Koenig, who sketched the young boy. Together, they created the backdrop for the boy's running adventures on each page.
As the audience stretched out to digest their buffet lunch, Woommavovah presented story time and read his book.
"Our vision for the book is to add value to a child's life through reading and exercise," he said.
The retiree said his daily run Nov. 21, coincided with Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) students who he fell in stride and remained on pace with throughout the 3-mile run.
He said the last mile class members were released to go at their own pace and they said they hoped he could keep up. With a slight inflexion in his voice, Woommavovah said, "Believe me, I stayed up with them."
Some of his ROTC cadets may soon become BOLC students here, and Woommavovah is already preparing them for the rigors of Army life.
"We believe fitness is paramount, especially with the new lieutenants coming in. That's why we put together the Sooner Battalion Running Club. We run outside of our regular physical training hours, and we take them to the gym and show them different forms of cross-training equipment and exercises," he said.
Instructors go with the cadets as Woommavovah said, "In the Army you lead by example." Also, he believes students are much more likely to show up if they know their instructors will be running beside them.
In exchange for the cadets' participation, he offers extra credit on their mid-term and final exams if they show up for extra-curricular PT.
"If they run a 5K or 10K on their own, I give them an extra 25 points in my class," he said. "They smile from cheek to cheek when they bring in their race number and results."
Marla Nauni, a Comanche recording artist, actress, model, and cousin of Woommavovah, then stepped to the microphone to sing "The Comanche Blessing Song."
"What I always ask people to do is listen with their heart as opposed to with their listening ear so they will receive that blessing because the prayer is for everyone present," she said.