Navajo tribesman speaks at luncheon honoring Native Americans

Story and Photo by Sgt. Ryan Twist
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — The Joint Base Balad American Indian Heritage Luncheon was held at Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center east at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, on Nov. 18 in recognition of Native American month.

The luncheon featured a prayer in the Navajo language and focused on bringing fading traditions into the spotlight.

“One hundred and ninety thousand Native American military Veterans (are) living today,” said Brig. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander of the 332nd Air expeditionary Wing. “Native Americans have the highest record of military service per capita compared to any other ethnic group in the United States.”

Franklin said the Native Americans’ distinctive cultural values, such as their proud warrior tradition, drive them to serve in the military.

“A warrior tradition is a willingness to engage the enemy in battle, the characteristic demonstrated by the courageous deeds of Native Americans in combat and best exemplified by qualities such as strength, honor, pride, devotion and wisdom, said to be inherent to most, if not all, Native American societies,” said Franklin.

He said these qualities are a perfect fit for military services.

Spc. Phillip Bedonie, a signal systems specialist with the 13th Sustainment Command (expeditionary) out of Fort Hood, Texas, said a prayer in the Navajo language during the luncheon.

“I think there was a pretty good turn out,” said Bedonie, a Tuba City, Ariz., native.

Guest speaker, Tech Sgt. Jacob Livingston, a contracting officer representative with the 332nd expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron and a Saint Michaels, Ariz., native, is a full-blooded Navajo Indian who spent 19 years on a Navajo reservation. He said events like the luncheon show how the military is dedicated to recognizing all cultures.

“I’m just really glad that everyone is always recognized,” said Livingston.

Airman 1st Class Ashleigh R. Taylor, security forces with the 332nd expeditionary Security Forces Squadron out of Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and a Hayward, Wis., native, said events that explain the culture and background of Native American people allow service members to better understand their dying customs. She said raising awareness allows the history to spread.

“My culture is dying in a way people don’t know about,” she said. “I’m the first person from the St. Croix Chippewa tribe in Wisconsin to join the military.”

Taylor said her family and friends are proud of her and enjoy listening to stories about her military training and travels. She said many people tell her she is the first Native American they have met.

Second Lt. Walter F. Sprengeler, headquarters platoon leader with the 514th Support Maintenance Company out of Watertown, N.Y., with the 80th Ordnance Battalion, said the event made him proud to be Native American.

“Our culture has endured so much,” said Sprengeler, a Flagstaff, Ariz., native. “I also felt that those that did attend the luncheon left with some sort of education, even if it was the smallest knowledge of the Native American culture.”

Sprengeler, winner of the Native American month essay contest, said when service members serve away from home for extended periods of time, they tend to lose focus on who they are. The event helped him remember a lot about the culture he grew up with, he said.

Livingston echoed this sentiment.

“Being away from the reservation really made me appreciate the stuff I took for granted back home,” he said. “I’ve heard of heritage events before, but I didn’t take it seriously. I was always too busy to go, but it is towards the end of my career in the military and I plan to go back to the reservation.”

He said he has forgotten some things after being away from the reservation for so long, but as he gets in touch with friends and family there, he is re-learning a lot of traditions and beliefs he had forgotten.

“My grandmother told me that mother earth takes care of you, so you’ve got to take care of her,” said Livingston. “Being away from home for so long, I started seeing the Air Force as my mother. She clothes me, she feeds me, she takes care of me. I do what I can to take care of her.”

Sprengeler said the Native American culture is rich and its origins lie in the history of its people and the United States.

“Currently, there are some two million American Indians that inhabit the United States, less than one percent of the nation’s population,” he said. “Each tribe has its own origin and story, and each has a unique lifestyle and history. I would urge my fellow brothers and sisters in arms to learn something new about one of these different tribes.”


news photo
Guest speaker, Tech Sgt. Jacob Livingston, a contracting officer representative with the 332nd expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron and a Saint Michaels, Ariz., native, speaks at the Joint Base Balad American Heritage Luncheon at Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center east Nov. 18 at JBB, Iraq. The event was held in recognition of Native American Heritage month.
(U.S. Army photos by Sgt. Ryan Twist)