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Fighting to protect American, Native way of life

  • Published
  • By Airman Erika Brooke
  • Staff writer
Even before they were deemed U.S. citizens, Native Americans played an integral role in the U.S. Armed Forces.

At the turn of the 18th century, Gen. George Washington recognized Native Americans as "excellent scouts and troops." Nearly 12,000 Native Americans jumped to enlist at the start of World War I, doubling to almost 25,000 during WWII. Native Americans, historically, have the highest record of service for their population when compared to other ethnic groups.

Native Americans have made, and continue to make, many prominent contributions to the U.S. military. By introducing the military to their native tongue during the world wars, they established the most hidden foundation for secure communication the nation had ever been exposed to. The Navajos in particular use a voice code which defies decoding. There is no alphabet or symbols in the original form of the Navajos' language, aiding in the successes of the U.S. military during the wars and leaving the enemies baffled.

"We need only to look to our Navajo Code Talkers during World War II to see the value that native languages bring not only to their culture, but to the security of all Americans," said Rick Renzi, member of U.S. House of Representatives.

The developers of the original codetalkers for military use assigned Navajo words to represent nearly 450 frequently used terms that didn't exist in the Navajo language. For example, the Navajo word "besh-lo" translates to the English word "iron fish," yet it was the code name for submarine and "Da-he-tih-hi" translates to the word "hummingbird" and was the code name for fighter plane.

The Navajo codetalkers even earned a special codename for themselves --"windtalkers."

In many respects, Native Americans are no different than any others who serve in the military. They do, however, have distinguishing cultural values which motivate them to serve their country. Traditionally, most Native American people value the warrior tradition: the willingness to engage the enemy in battle. This trait is illustrated through their commitment to strength, honor, pride, devotion and wisdom. By the end of the 20th century, five service members of Native American descent earned the Medal of Honor, the highest military achievement, by exhibiting these qualities and going beyond the call of duty.

The Native American peoples' pledge to honor and uphold these principles reflects the values and traditions of the U.S. military throughout history.
(Editors note: information provided by