National Guard wants Native recruits

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WASHINGTON – Leaders with the U.S. National Guard are making a renewed push to let Native Americans know about opportunities to serve within the reserve military force.

“I am extremely interested in getting the message out to the Native American communities,” said Col. Rob Porter, a director in the National Guard who focuses on recruitment efforts.

For Porter and his team, it’s natural to look to Natives for service during a time when they need to increase recruits, given that Indians have traditionally chosen to serve the country in times of need.

Tribal and federal officials have long noted that Indians have participated with distinction in U.S. military actions for more than 200 years, and their roles were recognized by American military leaders as early as the 18th century.

Still, for some Native Americans, a call to action from the National Guard is considered jarring, especially when measured against the historical tensions surrounding the group’s founding and other more recent conflicts that have tended to pit Indians against non-Indians.

Issues date back to Dec. 13, 1636 when the Massachusetts Bay Colony organized militia to defend the colony against the growing conflicts with neighboring Pequot Indians.

At that time, the colony’s leaders ordered that all males between 16 and 60 years of age own a gun and be ready to defend the community against attacks from Pequot citizens. The conflict ended up resulting in the Pequot War, which entailed members of the tribe trying to defend their lands from encroaching colonists.

Militia leaders ultimately defeated citizens of the tribe in the territorial conflict, which is now viewed by historians as a major moment in the birth of local militias and the National Guard.

Jim Cates, president of the National Native American Veterans Association, reflected on the current recruitment effort, saying the irony of being asked to serve a military that has sometimes been at odds with tribal interests is not lost on many recruits.

“They learn to live in both worlds, just like many Natives do outside of military service. They reconcile it within themselves.”

Even given the complications, for many Natives, the opportunity to serve with pride and equality, while earning an education, has been a large factor in their involvement.

Officials with today’s National Guard, which is composed of state militia members or units under federally recognized active or inactive armed force service, said the force has always championed diversity as a “pillar of strength” within the organization and has welcomed qualified Native American applicants to seek opportunities to serve their communities as citizen soldiers.

While the National Guard does not currently have a Native American-specific program, officials said there are several educational programs designed to be adapted to specific demographics.

Along those lines, they pointed to an ongoing environmental program, which they said demonstrates a level of commitment to preserving, protecting, and restoring natural and cultural resources.

At the same time, many state National Guard units have ongoing partnerships and actively consult with tribes to ensure protection of archaeological sites, traditional plants, and endangered animals, in addition to providing clean up and treatment of pollutants.

Porter said, too, that National Guard is exploring the development of policy changes in enlistment criteria to further address the population and its needs, similar to many other communities that partner with the force.

According to information provided by the force, four states, including Utah, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Nevada, are actively developing programs specifically targeted toward the recruitment of Native American citizens.

“The National Guard prides itself on generating unique and flexible recruiting and education initiatives which best serve the 54 states and territories,” Porter said. “We are the lead Department of Defense element in introducing creative programs which allow each state or territory to apply and adapt solutions which best fit their local situation.”

To interested Natives, officials said serving in the National Guard is unique from any other branch of service. For instance, the guard serves the nation during both peace time and in war, often as a first responder to assist communities during natural or manmade disasters.

“There is something special about protecting your own family, friends and neighbors,” Porter said. “No other branch of the military does that.”

In terms of benefits, there are none based on race or ethnicity alone, but there are several bonuses available to anyone who chooses to enlist and to gain transferable job skills. Such transferable job skills include those of mental health counselors, lawyers, doctors, chaplains, carpenters, mechanics, plumbers, electricians and linguists.

Native Americans are entitled to all the benefits, incentives and other opportunities for all military members after meeting each program’s eligibility requirements.

Cates knows of several Native American veterans who have proudly served in the National Guard, and he believes many of them welcome the new recruitment efforts.

“For many Native Americans, military service is a chance to improve themselves – to get an education, support their families, and feel a source of pride. Our young people should know about the opportunities.”

Cates also believes that Indians in the military serve the important role of helping non-Indians to better understand them and their communities.

More information on National Guard service is available online at www.nationalguard.com.