AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Native Americans have served honorably in
all our nation's wars despite the fact that they were not granted
citizenship until 1924. About 12,000 Native Americans served our country
heroically in World War I; 44,000 (of a total population of 350,000
at the time) served in World War II; and 42,000 served in Vietnam
-- more than 90 percent of whom were volunteers.
Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita
of all the ethnic groups in the United States. Perhaps the reason
for these astonishing statistics is best explained by one of our
own on Cheyenne Mountain.
"Many have asked why we fight in these wars. Our answer
is that we are proud to be Americans and we are proud to be Native
Americans," said Master Sgt. Leo Morales, 721st Communications
Squadron. "I am a third generation Native American service
member, and we are willing to fight not just for our family and
tribe, but for our nation, which we now consider our new tribe."
"Another reason goes back to time-honored traits held in
esteem by most Native American societies," said Tech. Sgt.
Theresea Cocozzielo, Mental Health flight chief at the U.S. Air
Force Academy. "These are strength, honor, respect in the people,
devotion, wisdom, and spiritual strength. These are the traits which
made them feared opponents in battle and it is what makes them courageous
One such famous person to serve this country is Clarence Tinker.
He was the first Native Americans in the U.S. Army history to attain
the rank of major general.
Tinker was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army infantry
in March 1912. After infantry training, Tinker joined the 25th Infantry
Division at Fort George Wright in Spokane, Wash., and during World
War I, Tinker served in the Southwestern United States and California,
rising in rank to major. In 1919, Tinker began flying lessons and
soon transferred to the Air Corps. Tinker's aviation career began
when he was assigned to flight duty July 1, 1922. He climbed in
rank, becoming a brigadier general Oct. 1, 1940.
Tinker was the first American general lost in World War II;
his body was never recovered. He received the Soldier's Medal in
1931 and the Distinguished Service Medal posthumously. Tinker Air
Force Base in Oklahoma City, Okla., is named in his honor.
Another tidbit regarding a place the Air Force calls home is
Cheyenne Mountain. If you ever see it from the north you might agree
it loosely resembles a dragon. One of the main features of the mountain
has long been referred to as "The Horns," which seems
to give rise to a local dragon legend of the Ute Indians.
According to the legend, the people of the Earth got tired of
life here and decided they wanted to leave the land behind and go
to heaven. The gods were angry that the people took for granted
the great gift of life and the Earth, so they sent a great flood.
A man and woman survived, swimming for days as the waters rose.
Finally, they found an enormous corn stalk and fashioned it into
a canoe that saved them as the water covered the mountain peaks.
The gods were pleased with their efforts, and told them they would
have dominion over the Earth and a mighty people would spring from
them. To save them, the gods sent a dragon from heaven with a great
thirst which gulped down the flood waters. Slowly, the waters receded
down the face of the mountains, revealed the flatlands and were
once again contained in the rivers. The dragon's body swelled and
swelled, but still he drank. The gods worried the dragon might drain
all the water from the earth, so they turned him to stone.
Today, his belly is Cheyenne Mountain -- home of Air Force Space
Command's premier underground command and control facility where
the men and women of the 721st Mission Support Group, like Morales,
dominate their high ground by providing unsurpassed technical support
for NORAD, USSTRATCOM and USNORTHCOM commanders and mission partners
-- clearly continuing to uphold the time-tested tradition of service,
honor and respect.