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Recognizing Contributions of Native Americans

  • Published
  • By Col. Timothy Zadalis
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Commander
This month marks Native American Heritage Month, and is an opportunity for us to remember the contributions they made to not only our country but our Air Force. When I think about the Air Force as an institution, we should be proudest of the fact that we are all different and that we come together. And it is the backgrounds, cultures and perspectives of so many that make up the Air Force culture. It is those differences that make us strong as a service. I truly see that our heritage months promote understanding where there wasn't understanding before. Every month we recognize a culture will pay us back tenfold because they will make us stronger as an institution.

A group of Native Americans who provided outstanding support to our nation's fight against tyranny was the code talkers. These heroes served in every U.S. Marine division and participated in every assault in the Pacific between 1942 and 1945. They were crucial to the war because the Japanese were experts at decoding U.S. Army and Air Corps messages. It was his perspective and background that caused Philip Johnston, a Navajo Indian who fought for the U.S. during World War I, to recognize the invaluable contributions his language could serve. He knew the military was looking for a way to secure their transmissions, and remembered that the Choctaw language was used to encode messages during the first war. According to the U.S. Navy, leadership saw the value of the Navajo language, which is extremely complex, unwritten and contains no alphabet or symbols.

The first group of 29 recruits trained at Camp Pendleton, Calif. These Marines developed the dictionary and words that coincided with military terms. During one battle at Iwo Jima, six code talkers sent nearly 1,000 messages without one error. Their code was never broken. It wasn't until 1992 that 35 code talkers were honored by the Pentagon, due to the continued use of the classified code. It essential that we never forget the contributions of these brave American heroes.

Two weeks ago, we were honored to have retired Sen. Arthur Hubbard as our Native American Heritage Month Kick Off Luncheon speaker. He, along with his fellow Marines, risked their lives to relay essential messages from the battlefield. These brave warriors left a legacy for us all.

Shifting topics, I would like to speak very briefly about the importance of child protection. When you talk about children, you must realize that they are the future and they are very vulnerable. We are their Wingmen and have to protect them because there those who would like nothing more than to harm a child. Increasingly, technology has given access to our homes and interaction without our children through chat rooms and instant messaging. Just as we monitor the things our children watch on television, we must do the same for the internet. Child protection also includes the proper use of child safety seats. Remember to buckle up.

Lastly, I want to again stress that DUIs will not be tolerated. Regrettably we had two this weekend and four in the last three weeks, and we were very fortunate to not have any fatalities. The decisions you make have consequences. Don't drink and drive. Be SAFE and ALWAYS be there for your Wingman.