By Babette Herrmann -- Today correspondent
BROWNING, Mont. - Nearly one year has passed since Carla Lott and Amber Gopher were recognized by the Blackfeet Tribe for becoming the first American Indian women to be commissioned as officers in their branch of the military.
The April 2007 event took both women back to their hometown of Browning at the Blackfeet Community College. Gopher, now a 2nd Lt., received her commissioning oath for the Montana Air National Guard's 120th Fighter Wing.
1st Lt. Lott, the first American Indian female commissioned officer in the Montana Army National Guard, swore her in.
But the event honored both women for their outstanding achievement. Maj. Gen. Randall Mosley and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester attended the event and spoke in their honor.
Both come from families with a rich history of military service.
At a name giving ceremony, Gopher was honored with her great-grandmother's name, ''Good Victory.''
''I was very humbled,'' she said. ''It turned out to be a good victory.''
The name is fitting for the 29-year-old. Prior to joining the military in 2001, she became a registered nurse and currently works as a nurse at a hospital in Great Falls, Mont. Her job as an officer puts her in charge of drug testing. ''It's a big position,'' she said. ''It's people's careers that are the line.''
Gopher said that she is glad to serve as a positive role model for young Blackfeet women. On the reservation, the high use of drugs and alcohol can deter women from choosing a productive path.
''If you work hard and you have a goal, you can do it,'' she said.
She credits her family for their love and support through her entire career - especially her mother and aunt. At a young age, her mother returned to college, and immediately became her role model. ''I made it a point to thank her,'' she said.
Gopher said that her mom was extremely strict while she attended high school, but looking back, she said, ''Now I appreciate it.''
Her aunt is director of nursing at a Montana hospital, and remains a constant source of inspiration.
Meanwhile, Lott proved that it is never too late to change career paths. At 30, and with four children in tow, her calling to join the military became too strong for her to ignore, and it served as a house cleaning of sorts. When she decided to go forth and pursue her dream, her husband left her.
What seemed like a harsh move on his part was actually a blessing in disguise for Lott. From there, she learned the true value of having a supportive and loving family to help her realize her dream. Her children were well cared for when she went off to basic training.
''If it wasn't for my mother, I wouldn't have been able to join,'' she said.
It was at basic training that she met her 19-year-old ''battle buddy Theresa Schulsinger. ''I told her that she kept me physically going and she told me that I kept her spiritually and mentally solid.''
Her battle buddy also bestowed her with a silver dollar at her swearing in as an officer, her first coin, considered a military honor and tradition.
Lott, who was elevated to distribution platoon leader for the E 145th FSC, 163rd Infantry Battalion in Helena, exited the military late 2007 due to family reasons. ''Basically I was in charge of beans and bullets,'' she quipped.
''When you are an officer, you are not there for yourself, but for all of the individuals that serve underneath you,'' Lott added.
She credits her service in the military to the success she has today. Lott's oldest daughter, who recently graduated from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, is following in her footsteps.
This past November, the Helena resident started her own company, Strongbear Corporation, a military personnel service company. ''Strongbear Woman'' is her Indian name.
Both Gopher and Lott encourage young Native women interested in military career to take the challenge, as they are proof of what results occur with hard work and dedication.
''If you want to go, then go,'' Gopher said.