By Rex Jones Jr.
Equal Opportunity Office director
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Native Americans have served honorably in all our nation’s wars despite the fact that they were not granted citizenship until 1924. About 12,000 Native Americans served our country heroically in World War I; 44,000 (of a total population of 350,000 at the time) served in World War II; and 42,000 served in Vietnam — more than 90 percent of whom were volunteers.
Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita of all the ethnic groups in the United States. Perhaps the reason for these astonishing statistics is best explained by one of our own on Cheyenne Mountain.
“Many have asked why we fight in these wars. Our answer is that we are proud to be Americans and we are proud to be Native Americans,” said Master Sgt. Leo Morales, 721st Communications Squadron. “I am a third generation Native American service member, and we are willing to fight not just for our family and tribe, but for our nation, which we now consider our new tribe.”
“Another reason goes back to time-honored traits held in esteem by most Native American societies,” said Tech. Sgt. Theresea Cocozzielo, Mental Health flight chief at the U.S. Air Force Academy. “These are strength, honor, respect in the people, devotion, wisdom, and spiritual strength. These are the traits which made them feared opponents in battle and it is what makes them courageous warriors today.”
One such famous person to serve this country is Clarence Tinker. He was the first Native Americans in the U.S. Army history to attain the rank of major general.
Tinker was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army infantry in March 1912. After infantry training, Tinker joined the 25th Infantry Division at Fort George Wright in Spokane, Wash., and during World War I, Tinker served in the Southwestern United States and California, rising in rank to major. In 1919, Tinker began flying lessons and soon transferred to the Air Corps. Tinker’s aviation career began when he was assigned to flight duty July 1, 1922. He climbed in rank, becoming a brigadier general Oct. 1, 1940.
Tinker was the first American general lost in World War II; his body was never recovered. He received the Soldier’s Medal in 1931 and the Distinguished Service Medal posthumously. Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Okla., is named in his honor.
Another tidbit regarding a place the Air Force calls home is Cheyenne Mountain. If you ever see it from the north you might agree it loosely resembles a dragon. One of the main features of the mountain has long been referred to as “The Horns,” which seems to give rise to a local dragon legend of the Ute Indians.
According to the legend, the people of the Earth got tired of life here and decided they wanted to leave the land behind and go to heaven. The gods were angry that the people took for granted the great gift of life and the Earth, so they sent a great flood. A man and woman survived, swimming for days as the waters rose. Finally, they found an enormous corn stalk and fashioned it into a canoe that saved them as the water covered the mountain peaks. The gods were pleased with their efforts, and told them they would have dominion over the Earth and a mighty people would spring from them. To save them, the gods sent a dragon from heaven with a great thirst which gulped down the flood waters. Slowly, the waters receded down the face of the mountains, revealed the flatlands and were once again contained in the rivers. The dragon’s body swelled and swelled, but still he drank. The gods worried the dragon might drain all the water from the earth, so they turned him to stone.
Today, his belly is Cheyenne Mountain — home of Air Force Space Command’s premier underground command and control facility where the men and women of the 721st Mission Support Group, like Morales, dominate their high ground by providing unsurpassed technical support for NORAD, USSTRATCOM and USNORTHCOM commanders and mission partners — clearly continuing to uphold the time-tested tradition of service, honor and respect.