CAMP CASEY, Republic of Korea — It’s a fitting achievement for a lifetime of public service. Keith Wayne Colbert, business and recreation division chief at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan-Casey, was inducted into the Order of the White Plume, March 25, 2021 for his outstanding service, leadership and extraordinary contributions to the U.S. Army.
Serving some 40 years, Colbert has inspired projects and programs that impacted and influenced thousands along the way. Among them include the management, overhaul and development of a high-school football program and state-of-the-art sports field at Osan Air Base. Colbert also impacted the lives of wounded warriors around the U.S. by inviting them to the Anniston Army Depot for a premier hunting program especially for Purple Heart recipients spanning from WWII to Desert Storm. It’s a program that’s still active today.
“Seeing the Soldiers together was like a reunion,” Colbert said of the program he initiated during 2013. “The first night we built a bonfire and sat around telling stories until the early hours of dawn when we took them to their stands for a fantastic experience harvesting nine, record bucks.”
Colbert's award citation demonstrates a body of work all over the world. Innovative, thoughtful programs and services — the kind of services that make Soldiers and families glad to be where they are stationed.
There’s a Creek proverb that says, “Let every step be as a prayer.” Colbert is a living, breathing representation of that sentiment. He's the first Native American to receive the “White Plume” award. He's of the Creek Nation.
If asked, he’ll tell you he stands on the shoulders of proud ancestors who served before him. “I’m a former Marine, my whole family has served in the military except my mother,” he said. “I’m related to David Moniac. He's my third great grand-uncle."
Moniac was the first Alabama cadet to attend the military academy and the first Native American to graduate from West Point in 1822. Moniac later became a lieutenant in the U.S. 6th Infantry Regiment and led Creek Volunteers in Florida during the Second Seminole War, dying in the conflict.
Colbert said his family’s history is one filled with patriot service. “My father’s sister worked at the Mobile Shipyard during WWII,” he said. “I was taught to work hard as young boy, I watched my family pick cotton.”
According to History.com, during the early 1830’s there were more than 125,000 Native Americans living and working acres of land in southern states like Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida. By the end of the decade, few remained. European settlers sought these lands to grow cotton.
Colbert’s tribe were able to stay as farmers and river guides. “We were allowed to stay on Native lands,” he said.
Long before his time in Marines and his service as an Army civilian, Colbert worked as a paperboy at age nine. However, he says watching his family work in the Alabama fields, and dragging those long sacks of cotton left an impression on him.
“It taught me about perseverance,” Colbert said. “I am the youngest of three sons and grew up in Pensacola, Florida. We were poor.”
“Mom always made sure we went to church; my father made sure we worked hard; my grandfather made sure we laughed [had a sense of humor]; my grandmother made sure we knew we were Indian [Native American],” he said.
“There’s a lot of tears, smiles and really good memories when you think back,” said Colbert. “Family and MWR is my life. Being inducted into this order means more to me than I can express, I only wish my father were here to witness it.”
The White Plume award, established in 1982 by the Adjutant General of the Army recognizes outstanding service and contribution to Family and MWR programs. It’s the Army’s highest medal for achievement in support of Army Family and MWR programs. Colbert is the 467th in this line of professional awardees to receive the lifetime achievement award.
“I sold fruit and vegetables on the side of the highway from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” he said. “Today, I build programs and services that support, heal and keep Soldiers ready for the next mission no matter where that takes them.”
“Back then, I felt accomplishment and pride after buying my own clothes with the money earned,” he said. “Today, my pride comes when I look into the eyes of those we serve,” he said. “I make the quality of life of our Soldiers a little better.”
Editor's note: This month, Colbert travels to the Alabama Capitol with family members to attend a ceremony on Nov. 15 recognizing David Moniac's legacy and contributions.