For Veteran's Day: How to Spot a Native American Veteran

Vincent Schilling

By associate editor Vincent Schilling, a military veteran and a former U.S. Army Lieutenant

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2017, but the sentiment remains. Today is Veteran's Day, the day we take a bit of time to remember and recognize the accomplishments of veterans and in the case of Indian Country Today, place a bit of emphasis on Native American veterans.

From a personal standpoint, and as the Associate Editor of Indian Country Today, I'd like to offer a few words of appreciation if you are a Native American Veteran. In honor of all the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. This is a blessing to you and your family on this day.

As a former Second Lieutenant in the active U.S. Army and also in the National Guard, I am proud to have served alongside all of you. Thank you for your service to the country.

As we have reported in ICT on many occasions, since the first arrival of Europeans onto Turtle Island, Native Americans – American Indians, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians – have enlisted and volunteered for the armed services at a higher rate than any other ethnicity.

According to government officials during World War II, if all other races had enlisted at the same rate as American Indians, selective service and the draft would not have been necessary.

A ​Native American veteran takes a moment to respect the flag. Photo: Vincent Schilling

But, you might ask, how can we identify Native Veterans in order to give them a handshake, a hug or a tip of our hat? Here are several ways to tell someone is probably a Native American veteran. Some of them lighthearted and some more serious.

They have rank, ribbons or service branch worked into their Native regalia

Pequot Museum on the 5th Veterans Pow Wow in celebration of the Native American Veteran and all veterans.

Sometimes at a pow wow or other celebration, you might see a person with a partial uniform, such as combat fatigues, along with pieces or Native ornamentation, such as feathers. This person is a veteran, or a person honoring a family member who served. Please know this is a gesture of honor and not to be taken lightly. Uniforms are only worn as a gesture of remembrance and honor.

Women Native Veterans in Washington D.C. Photo: Vincent Schilling

You might also see a red feather as part of their regalia, which is an indication of having been wounded in battle. If you see this, please thank them for their service.

They always walk in the same step as you… and they know what that weird ‘one-leg hop-skip’ thing is

If you are not a Native veteran or veteran, you probably have no idea what this means. But any veteran knows all too well about that weird leg skip-step in order to get in cadence / or get into the same step with the other people you are marching with.

After marching in step with everyone all the time in the service, we now automatically get in step with whomever we are walking.

If they have something in their right hand and see someone in uniform, they switch hands

A non-commissioned service member always had to be ready to salute an officer - or a junior officer had to salute a senior officer. And officers, in turn, have to be ready at all times to return a salute. Photo Vincent Schilling

​Wait, what? Perhaps this might not make sense if you are not a veteran, and some veterans may have forgotten they even do this. The reason this happens is while in the service, vets always had to be ready to salute a higher ranking commissioned officer. And officers have to be ready at all times to return a salute. Some habits never leave us.

I literally saw a young service member earlier this week wearing fatigues (November 2018) and I immediately switched the pen in my right hand into my left hand. The young man wasn't even close to see me, and walked the other way toward a different building, but some habits stay with us.

Veterans laugh at movies that show people in inaccurate uniforms

Veterans will scream out when we see someone in a movie or TV show with inaccurate rank, ribbons or name-tags. We also notice sloppily worn hats, improperly rolled up sleeves or anything else that screams, “Bad movie costuming person!” or “Lack of military adviser!”

They still roll their socks, t-shirts or underwear

Native vets might still roll their socks, t-shirts or underwear. (Yes, by the way, this is my sock drawer.) Photo: Vincent Schilling

​Ok, this isn’t always the case, as some vets like to discard all their previous ways, but some vets hold tight to those old habits. “Hey, rolled underwear looks nice and neat in a drawer,” that is, just before a drill sergeant throws it all onto the floor and tells you to do it again at 4 a.m. because you didn’t properly lock your foot locker.

Many veterans will probably smile after reading that last sentence - believe me we all have those stories to tell.

They know a bunch of weird terms when talking to a fellow veteran about ‘those days’

If you understand such terminology as “good to go,” “hua,” “dress right dress,”‘ “muster”, “at ease” and much more, this day is in your honor. You might also call the bathroom the “head” or even a latrine.

The hair is either super short, or long. There really is no in-between

This isn’t really a superior indicator, and more of a private joke. Veterans don’t really know why this is – but we either hold on to the old military ways and embrace that buzz-cut or move away completely and embrace our bushy locks. There really is no in-between. It’s just one of those veteran things.

We might get a little quiet during the posting of the colors

A Native veteran pauses in thought at the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia Pow wow in 2016. Photo: Vincent Schilling

​Though some parts of this article might be lighthearted, but not this one. Native veterans might get a little bit quiet during the posting of the colors at Grand Entry.

The colors (The POW and American Flag) represent those men and women who have served in the armed forces and came home hurt or otherwise disabled, or in a memorial covered with a flag or never returned home. Photo: Vincent Schilling

The colors (The POW and American Flag) represent those men and women who have served in the armed forces and came home hurt or otherwise disabled, or in a memorial covered with a flag or never returned home. Our servicemen and women have given so much. So during these moments, it is always right to give honor and respect to those veterans who might be a bit quiet.

We dance in the Veteran’s circle during a pow wow

Seems simple enough, but taking a moment to recognize the veterans in this circle who gave years of their lives in service to their country is respectful. Also keep in mind those veterans who are not in the circle due to disabilities, never returning home or because they are no longer with us.

Blessings to you all on this Veteran's Day.

Vincent Schilling


U.S. Army Lieutenant 1-143rd Field Artillery


U.S. Army Combat Medic 91-A

U.S. Army Medical Lab Specialist 92-B

Read my commission story:#NativeNerd: Never underestimate a Native Nerd - or anyone for that matter

Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter -@VinceSchilling


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