FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- If you are interested in some genuine American history, this is the month to delve into it. During the entire month of November, we are recognizing the historical contributions of the original people of our land, Native Americans.

A month is hardly long enough for Americans to observe and appreciate all the Native American contributions to our lives and traditions. From the Army's vantage point, Native Americans have been making contributions since the first settlers and explorers arrived here. Native Americans worked alongside the early U.S. Calvary as scouts.

Many American natives were fighting in our wars before they were citizens. In World War I, some 12,000 Native American men and women served in uniform. During World War II, the number of those who served doubled as Native Americans played an instrumental role in encrypting communications with their unique language skills.

Today the number of Native American veterans is fast approaching the 200,000 mark. Since the start of November, we have been recognizing the historical contributions of Native Americans. This year's theme is "confronting the challenges that face our nation."

Here on Fort Jackson, we will mark Native American Heritage Month with a luncheon Nov. 18 at the Officers' Club. There are also events planned at Pierce Terrace Elementary School and C.C. Pinckney Elementary School. At cultural celebrations such as these, Soldiers and other Fort Jackson community members have an opportunity to learn about Native American achievements and contributions.

Our country has been recognizing Native American contributions since 1916, when the state of New York designated one day to be known as "American Indian Day." In 1990, the observance was expanded to run the entire month of November.

Our Army firmly believes that the strength of our nation comes from the diversity of its people. That's why we believe so strongly in studying and learning about the contributions of Native Americans and their rich heritage. As for this month's theme, it's clear that Native Americans have distinguished themselves throughout the past centuries.

In addition to their military accomplishments, Native Americans have become honored scholars, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders, and have excelled in many more disciplines, too many to mention in this space.

Native Americans are no strangers to hardships and adversity, but they have always confronted challenges with courage and are noted for their courage and honor. As a nation, we owe a great deal to Native Americans. Native Americans have added immeasurably to our heritage, guiding our land stewardship policies, and demonstrating unparalleled courage.

During Native American Heritage Month, we recognize their many accomplishments, contributions, sacrifices, and we pay tribute to their participation in all aspects of American society. In our Army, we continue to gain the best-qualified Soldiers from all backgrounds, ensuring that every Soldier gets the opportunity to reach his or her potential.

Army Strong and Victory Starts Here!