2019 American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month

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Senior Airman Shawn Bergamaschi

168th Maintenance Group, Alaska

Bergamaschi, 33, joined in 2007 to have money and something to do, and loves the traveling. An Iñupiat Eskimo from a small town, he sees his guard service and the military recognizing heritage month as a way to open up new doors for those in his village. “I love helping the recruiters and getting the small communities involved.”

Tech. Sgt. Gary J Fearon

101st Security Forces Squadron, 101st Air Refueling Wing

Fearon, 29, of Bangor, Maine, is a security forces journeyman and a member of the Penobscot Tribe. He joined in 2008 just after turning 17, inspired by the stories his grandfather and uncles told him about the brotherhood, camaraderie and pride they experienced. “Getting to develop these relationships has meant a lot to me and has opened my eyes more to new cultures and people from all over.”

Pfc. Jacey Garcia

155th Engineer Company

Garcia, 19, from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, joined in 2017 and loves being “part of an organization that cares about you as more than just a Soldier.” Having a month dedicated to Native people, he says, “is important because it gives us the opportunity to learn and talk about our history. It gives Native Americans a bigger stage.”

Staff Sgt. Samantha Garcia

Delta Company, 39th Brigade Support Battalion

Garcia, 24, of Yutan, Nebraska, is a unit supply specialist who joined in 2012. A member of the Hopi tribe in Arizona, she said this observance “helps serve as a reminder of where our country came from and some of the issues Native Americans face, but also of how proud we are in our heritage and traditions.”

Senior Airman Dawn Marie Gonzalez

176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard

Gonzalez, 31, became the 10th generation of her family and the first female to serve when she joined in 2012. “I feel honored that I get to share recognition in November, the month of Thanksgiving, with the greats like Honorary Chief Boatswain's Mate James Williams and 2nd Lt. Billy Walkabout, two of the most highly decorated American Indians.” She is the youngest granddaughter to the last traditional Sugpiaq Chief Costia Inga of the village of Old Harbor.

Technical Sgt. Bonnie Lynch

233d Space Group, Colorado Air National Guard

Previously active duty, Lynch is a registered nurse and hopes to become a doctor and serve the military community or back home on the Navajo reservation. Lynch said Native American Heritage month is important because “we get to celebrate and recognize the diverse culture and history of Native Americans and their important contributions to society.”

Senior Master Sgt. Lucy M. Nagel

176th Wing, Alaska

Nagel, 41, joined the Air Force in 1996 and, after a break, the Alaska Air National Guard in 2009. She considers the observance “a chance for the community to really showcase what they are proud about within their culture. … These observances give everyone, including myself, a chance to be reminded of the reason to be proud of who they are and where they came from.”

Master Sgt. Vanessa Peterson

Joint Force Headquarters -A1 Office, Alaska Air National Guard

Peterson, 38, joined in 2001. As the child of a Yup’ik mother and a black father, “it is heart-warming to know that respect for diversity and inclusion is appreciated in today’s societies.Observance of Native American Heritage Month is a time to recognize not only my Yup’ik ancestors but the contributions, achievements and sacrifices that all Natives have offered to the world.”

Lt. Col. James J. Phoenix

Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ) Provost Marshal Office

Phoenix, 55, served in the Kansas Army National Guard and the Marine Corps in the 1980s and joined the Nevada Army National Guard in 1997 as “part of my family tradition and heritage.” He said Native Americans have fought in every war on their soil or foreign land. “I cannot emphasis the pride I have to be a part of something more than myself.”

Airman 1st Class Elsa Prince

176th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Alaska Air National Guard

Prince, 20, joined in 2017. “I am who I am, Inupiaq.” The observance “is a great way to recognize different ethnic backgrounds in the Air Force, reassuring us that we are not the only American Indian/Alaskan Native in the Air Force.”

Maj. Dayna Sanders

Defensive Cyber Operations Element, Joint Forces Headquarters

Sanders, 36, of Frankfort, Ky., joined in 2007 after college to continue the legacy of her father, an Air Force photographer in Vietnam. She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in Belcourt, North Dakota. “Educating others about Native American culture and communities ensures that my tribe’s traditions are shared and passed to others,” Sanders said.

Tech. Sgt. Blassi Konelaq Shoogukwruk

176th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Alaska Air National Guard

Shoogukwruk, 38, joined in 2006. “My mother, both grandfathers, and a whole bunch of uncles have served before me, so I thought, why not?” Programs like Operation Santa Claus are his favorite part about being in the Guard. “I was able to be a recipient of this service when I was a child living in a village in rural Alaska. It was awesome to be able to be part of providing this service to kids just like me out in the villages.”

Sgt. Brandon Tagarook

202nd Army Band

Tagarook, 34, of Shelbyville, Ky., joined in 2005, inspired by his brothers, who enlisted in the Kentucky Army National Guard after 9/11. The highlight of his service is performing the French horn with the 202nd in the annual Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, where he grew up.

Staff Sgt. Tasheena Tyler

National Guard Bureau Joint Staff Property Book

Tyler, 26, is a Navajo (Dine) and her family lives in Fruitland, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation Reservation – the largest Native American reservation in the United States. “Our language, our tradition, and our people are beautiful in every way, so having a month to observe us, it makes me proud, knowing I am apart of such an amazing culture.”

Sgt. Serita Unin

Bravo Company 1st Battalion 297th Infantry Battalion, Alaska Army National Guard

Unin, 31, joined in 2009 and wants “to encourage American Indians and Alaska Natives to be a part of something greater than themselves. Step out of their comfort zone and take the first step towards your dream.”