Regional Health Command-Central hosted the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston National American Indian Heritage Month Celebration Nov. 11 to honor the lasting contributions and achievements Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have made to the U.S. Armed Forces and the nation.

The ceremony, hosted by Brig. Gen. Wendy Harter, commanding general of Brooke Army Medical Center and deputy commanding general of RHC-C, featured a guest speaker, traditional dancing, Medal of Honor walk, displays and more.

“When compared to other ethnic groups within the United States, Native Americans have the highest record of military service per capita and according to the latest U.S. Census, there are more than 150,000 veterans of American Indian and Alaskan Native descent,” Harter said.

The general spoke about the history of the Native American Code Talkers – pioneered by the Choctaw and Comanche Soldiers during World War I and how by the end of World War II, service members from more than 33 tribes served their nation valiantly as code talkers and were essential to the Allied victory in both wars.

Erwin De Luna, president of the board of directors for the United San Antonio Pow Wow Inc., who is of Taos Pueblo and Navajo ancestry, was the guest speaker. He spoke about his work within the San Antonio community and how four of his brothers served their country in both the Marines and the Navy.

Milo Colton, a criminal justice professor at St. Mary’s University of Winnebago descent, performed the “Sneak Up Dance,” a traditional dance belonging to the Northern Plains Tribes. The dance evolved into a type of song honoring veterans after World War I and World War II, and would be sung at pow-wows.

Observances like this also allowed people of similar backgrounds or interests to meet. Two service members who work on JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, in different services, found they had a lot in common once they started talking.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ninanne Gutierrez, an Airman from the 381st Training Support Squadron, met Army Maj. Michael John, who works at U.S. Army North. The two found that not only are they both of Navajo (Diné) descent, they are from the same clan – the Black Sheep people.

“I enjoyed the chance to connect with and be able to meet more people on JBSA,” Gutierrez said. “In fact, when I talked to Maj. John, I was excited to find out that we know some of the same people.”

In his closing remarks, RHC-C Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Cecil said most of the tribal-owned lands in the United States reside within the geographic footprint of the region. He also spoke about the importance of diversity within the military.

“Diversity is one of our military’s greatest strengths,” Cecil said. “Events like this, where we have the opportunity to gain a better understanding of people and cultures within our own communities, help ensure lasting relationships.”

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