Native Americans in the US Military

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
When people think of Native Americans in U.S. military heritage, the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II comes to mind. A fact less known is that Native Americans served the United States military for more than 200 years -- Native Americans first served in America's fight for independence under the command of Gen. George Washington.

A strong warrior tradition and longing to defend their homeland lies deep in Native American culture, making it easy to see the inspiration for their service to the country. To be a warrior, one must have strong physical, mental and spiritual strength. They must be able to defeat their enemy and face death without fear.

Native Americans exemplify this warrior spirit in their high turnout of volunteers for military service even at times when it was not required of them. For instance, in 1914, despite lacking citizenship and therefore eligibility for the draft, 12,000 Native Americans volunteered to fight in the U.S. Army.

For several decades, Native Americans volunteered their service to a country that did not acknowledge them as citizens. Then in 1940, the Indian Citizenship and the Nationalities Acts were passed granting full citizenship to Natives and extending the draft registration to their demographic.

This was an important step for the country as it allowed the 99 percent of draft eligible Native Americans, totaling 44,000, to serve in World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Of those who served during this time, 90 percent were volunteers.

Native American service members have since fought in military conflicts in Vietnam, Grenada, Somalia, Panama and more recently, the Middle East.

According to the Department of Defense, there were 156,515 Native American veterans as of March 2012. Today, 22,248 Native Americans serve in the Armed Forces. Making up only 1.4 percent of the country's total population and 1.7 percent of the military population, Native Americans have the highest population per capita serving in the military of any ethnic group. The selfless dedication and service to the military in such percentages can only indicate the culture's deep-seated pride and desire to protect the American homeland.

Many Native Americans seek out military service to fulfill a sacred charge and enrich their life with wisdom, while others view it as a duty of being a citizen. They have proven their determination against the foes of the United States, yet most times are left the unsung heroes of military history.

Native Americans are the eternal guardians of the American frontier and they will continue to answer the call to defend the United States. To help celebrate Native Americans and their contributions to the United States' military, please join the 90th Maintenance Group as they host a Native American Heritage Luncheon in the Fall Hall Community Center Dec. 4 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.