National American Indian Heritage Month

Staff Sgt. Samantha Bussen

1st Battalion, 209th Regiment Training Institute, Nebraska Army National Guard

Bussen, a Guardsman since 2012, says the highlight of her service was going to South Korea with the Cavalry Squadron in 2019 and earning her spurs. "We tend to forget where we come from as a society and being able to see and remember some of that is always important. As leaders, we forget sometimes that Soldiers have different backgrounds than us and that these experiences will be important to them but also how they could impact them. Seeing leadership being aware to other heritages ends up making us a better organization, and it is thanks to these different opinions and perspectives."

Sgt. Destini Keene

133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Kentucky Army National Guard

Keene joined the Guard in 2016. The public affairs specialist says a highlight of her service was working the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Asked about the importance of Native American Heritage Month, she said: "I think that it's awesome that all service members are highlighted, and I especially love that the service observes multiple different diversity groups. It is truly heartwarming."

Sgt. Heather Larson

India Company 134 Brigade Support Battalion, Minnesota Army National Guard

Larson joined the Guard after high school almost 20 years ago. She has deployed to Iraq, Kuwait and North Macedonia for a training exercise. "To me the observance of Indigenous Peoples Heritage month means that cultural heritage, language, and contributions/inventions of the Indigenous People can be celebrated. When I was a kid, my mom would tell me how growing up she was embarrassed to be Native American, and that had always made me feel sad that she couldn’t be proud of her own heritage. Now we can be proud of who we are and our heritage."

1st Sgt. Lowell Paul Laudert

A Company, Higher Headquarters Battalion, 34th Infantry Division, Minnesota Army National Guard

Laudert joined the Guard in 1993 and re-enlisted in 2006. He has deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. "I see serving the USA as also serving my Anishinaabe people, my tribal Nation of White Earth. ... Native People are still here! We are strong resilient people and our future is bright. All of America was built on Native American lands and territories; ALL OF IT. Native culture and traditions are woven into the fabric of American society; even parts we fully don’t see or understand."

Sgt. 1st Class Tomas Lazalde III

223rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, California Army National Guard

Lazalde, a Guardsman since 2000, says the highlight of his service is sharing his knowledge and experience with the future Soldiers of the U.S. Army. "This observance means a lot to me as it highlights our heritage and spreading insight into our culture. The one thing I hold dear to my heritage is spiritual hikes and the camaraderie within our families. It reminds me to remain focus/grounded to our roots and spirit."

Sgt. 1st Class Claymore LeBeau

I Company, 134th Brigade Support Battalion, 2-136 Combined Arms Battalion, Minnesota Army National Guard

LeBeau joined the Guard in 2007 in keeping with family tradition. His military occupational specialty is culinary management. Asked about the importance of this month's observance, he says: "I'm glad we have it and that there is something, but it doesn’t feel like enough. It’s sad how many people think all natives are gone."

Jason Nicholi

G1 California Military Department, California National Guard

Nicholi has served in the Army and Army National Guard since 1996. Recent deployments include Kosovo and Afghanistan. "I am very proud of my Native American culture and being able to talk about it with others."

Master Sgt. Kelvin Oxendine

116 Air Control Wing, Georgia Air National Guard

Oxendine, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, has served since 2007. His last deployment was to Germany from June to October. "This observance means a lot to me. Not only is it a perfect opportunity for people to learn about Native American heritage, it also provides the perfect context to deconstruct common myths and stereotypes about Indigenous peoples and Indigenous identity."

Staff Sgt. Bruce Phillips

HHC 139th Regional Support Group, Louisiana Army National Guard

Phillips joined the Guard in 2002 and has deployed to Iraq twice. "We are all people under the same roof. This month not only benefits Native Americans, but all Americans that have added to what the American culture is today."

Spc. Ryan E. Stigen

34th Military Police Company, Minnesota Army National Guard

Stigen joined the Guard in 2019, following many family members on his mother's and father's side into military service. A highlight of his time in uniform was participating in a State Partnership Program exchange with members of the Norwegian army. He says Native American Heritage Month "demonstrates that the military is expanding its comprehension of diverse people and backgrounds. ... I'm eagerly looking forward to sharing my Alaskan Native Yupik heritage with others."

Col. Lawrence N. Yazzie

183d Wing, Illinois Air National Guard

Yazzie followed his fathers, grandfathers and uncles into military service in 2000, joining the Iowa National Guard in 2007 and the Illinois Guard in 2023. "As a Navajo, Comanche and Meskwaki warrior serving in the United States Armed Forces, Native American Heritage Month holds a deep and profound significance for me. It is a time to honor and celebrate the rich cultural heritage, traditions, and contributions of Native American people throughout history. ... Being a Native American in the military allows me to showcase the diversity and inclusivity that our armed forces embody. It is a testament to the fact that our nation's strength lies in the unity of its people, regardless of their background or cultural heritage."