Comanche code-talkers of the 4th Signal Company pose for a photo. Native American code talkers served in World War I and World War II. (U.S. Army Center for Military History)

SAIGE honors Native American contributions to modern warfare

Throughout November, a display at the Pentagon titled, “Why We Serve” highlights how Native Americans have served in all the nation’s wars since the Revolutionary War.

The Defense Department and the nation celebrate National American Indian and Alaska Heritage Month every November.

“[Native American Heritage Month] is an opportunity to recognize the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, stories, and important contributions of Native American and Alaskan Native people,” said Edward Blauvelt, Society of American Indian Government Employees, or SAIGE, warrior society director.

Throughout America’s history, 22 Native American servicemembers earned the Medal of Honor, 29 were U.S. Soldiers.

About 190,000 American Indians are military veterans. The U.S. is about 1.4% Native.

“Our Army is made up of Soldiers, their family members and civilians who come from all of the cultures in our American society,” said Brig. Gen. Joe Hilbert, director, Army force development. “In essence, we are America. Recognizing and celebrating our Native American cultures and those within our ranks who are serving or who have served and have come from those cultures, it is a way to celebrate us. It’s an opportunity to recognize the great contributions Native Americans have provided us, and what they as a people have contributed to our great nation and our Army.”

Blauvelt said many of the warfare and battle tactics the service branches use today originated from the Native Americans.

“The American Indian, Alaskan Native style of warfare is so ingrained into America that it is now America’s version of warfare, and along with excellent training and equipment, it makes the U.S. military superior on the battlefield,” said Blauvelt.

These tactics include their perseverance, skulking (now known as guerrilla warfare), blitz attacks such as shock and awe, and the use of stealth technology.

Native Americans would skulk game when hunting. They used this for enemy attacks as well.

When the Mohawks skulked, they hid in the terrain to surprise attack the enemy, along with diversions and ambushes. Skulking was an essential mode of warfare for the forest Indians in the northeastern U.S. It enraged the European officers who viewed it as being against the “rules of war,” though they had skulked in wars in Ireland, Scotland, France, and other European countries.

Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota tribe performed quick attacks and divided the enemy. The Apache leader Geronimo and the Seminole people used resistance fighting with hit-and-run tactics. Muscogee warriors used night attacks. The overall battle strategy of these Native American leaders focused on preserving the lives of the individual warrior, he said.

This warfighting blueprint evolved into the current multi-domain battle tactic concept aimed at overcoming local threats with small units instead of exposing major assets decentralized command structures. These stealth structures include aircraft, drones, ships, tanks and missiles; camouflage to hide assets; and decoys such as drones and missiles.

Stealth methods include swarming to engage an adversary from all directions simultaneously, nighttime special operations teams and using tactics for surprise and mobility.

The U.S. military evolved using Native American guerilla tactics in Vietnam, Afghanistan and other modern conflicts.

After the Revolutionary War, many tribes fought against the U.S. as the nation expanded westward. Still, many Native Americans fought with the Army right up to the American Civil War.

Between 1872 and 1890, 16 native scouts were awarded the Medal of Honor.  During the Indian Wars, 5,817 American Indians served as scouts during the 81 years.

The War Department authorized Native Americans to be enlisted in the Army and serve in Indian companies. Each existing regiment of cavalry would contain one Indian regiment. A maximum of 55 Indians were authorized for each company or troop.

Some Native Americans supported the programs while others fought against it. American Indians served in the Spanish-American War and earned Theodore Roosevelt’s highest regard, Blauvelt said.

Blauvelt said that even though they couldn’t vote, and their numbers were thin, the American Indians were registering for the draft or volunteering for World War I.

During World War II, 44,000 Native Americans from 50 tribes of an estimated population of under 400,000 served on active duty, including nearly 800 women. About 150,000 served or supported the war effort. The Army used about 534 code talkers from the Comanche, Meskwaki, Chippewa, Oneida, Hopi, and Dine nations during World War II.

More than 6,300 Alaska Natives from 107 communities volunteered to serve in the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II.

Native Americans continue to serve today.

“American Indians and Alaskan Natives have made major military contributions to this nation that helped America win battles and wars at crucial moments in history,” Blauvelt said.

By Shannon Collins, Army News Service