FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Native American contributions to war efforts in World War II and in the Korean and Vietnam wars have long been part of military history.

For instance, Navajo code talkers sent undecipherable messages that confused the enemy and helped secure victory in those conflicts.

Fort Bragg paid tribute to the history of those code talkers and all Native American servicemembers Wednesday at the Officers' Club. The installation held its 2009 National American Indian Heritage Month Observance in a themed recognition titled "Understanding Native American Heritage Now and Then."

Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, assistant professor and chair of American Indian Studies at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, served as guest speaker.

Jacobs began her speech with a quote from Geronimo, a Chiricahua Apache leader and medicine man who fought America's encroachment and expansion into Apache tribal lands.

"I was no chief and never had been, but because I had been more deeply wronged than others, this honor was conferred upon me, and I resolved to prove worthy of the trust," Geronimo said.
According to Jacobs, Native Americans have historically joined the military because "they felt a responsibility to protect their people and their lands."

From fighting in the Confederacy to service beyond Korea and Vietnam, Native Americans have served in the military, even when they were not recognized as U.S. citizens, she said.

Sgt. Maj. Alfonzo McKinley, Provost Marshal's Office sergeant major, attended Wednesday's observance with his wife, Eileen McKinley, a member of the tribal mountain band of Chippewa Indians.

Alfonzo McKinley said he has been attending the observance for the five years he has been stationed at Fort Bragg.

"Native Americans were the founders of this land and they set the foundation for other people to follow in their celebrations and in their heritage," he said.

Several people performed at the observance including the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina Youth Group; Native American flutist Jonathan Ward; and the Lumbee Warriors Association Veterans Committee, which honors the service of Native Americans in the armed forces.

Performances included traditional Native American butterfly and men's dances in full regalia and drumming.

Harold Hunt, a committee member and former staff sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division, said he enjoyed participating in the observance.

"I'm happy that someone else recognized the facts of the contributions of Native Americans to American freedom and that the military would take their time to have Native American awareness."
It is awareness that Eileen McKinley seems to want continued. She said Native American heritage is beginning to fade and that it will take more educational opportunities such as Wednesday's observance to ensure the culture survives and thrives. It is a culture from which America can continue to learn.

In his remarks, Col. Stephen Sicinski, Fort Bragg garrison commander, said that Native Americans have taught the military valuable lessons such as how to care for the environment.

"Tribal America has brought to this great country certain values and ideas that have become engrained in the fabric of the American spirit. The knowledge that humans can thrive and prosper without the destroying the natural environment and the understanding that people from different backgrounds, cultures, religions and ethnicities can come together to build a great country," Sicinski said.

"We, here at Fort Bragg, have a long and well-documented history of living this belief. On a daily basis, we work to protect our environment. Soldiers can learn from it, work and play in it and pass it to our next generation. We understand that our environment is unique and irreplaceable."
President George H.W. Bush established the observance of National American Indian Heritage Month in 1990.