An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Article View
NEWS | Nov. 28, 2023

Native Name Inspires Strength, Pride for Virginia Guardsman

By Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

RICHMOND, Va. –  First Lt. Gavin Steel traces his Native American heritage through his maternal and paternal grandmothers’ bloodlines. His maternal grandmother comes from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. On the paternal side, his grandmother comes from the Coharie Indian Tribe.
“I am always aware of where I come from,” Steel said. “I always want to honor the Cherokee people. I carry pride for the tribes I belong to every day.”
Steel started his military career in 2016 as a cadet enrolled in the Simultaneous Membership Program, which allows National Guard Soldiers to participate in their school’s ROTC program while enjoying the benefits of both. In May, he commissioned as an infantry officer.
“I joined so that I could follow in my adopted father’s footsteps,” Steel said, explaining that his adopted father was a U.S. Navy officer. “From the day I met him, he always explained to me the importance of a good officer and the impact they have on those around them. I want to leave my mark on this organization and leave it better than I found it.”
In 2021, Steel attended and graduated from Ranger School.
“The one lesson that stuck out to me the most is that Ranger School is called a leadership school not because of what they teach you, but because of those you come in contact with,” Steel said. “You are all leaders at Ranger School and you are all taking styles of leadership from each other and creating your own style that you then bring back to the unit.”
At Ranger School, Steel said he learned just how much a body could take and how important it was to divorce himself from bodily discomfort during times of stress. It required resilience and physical and mental strength. When he was 6 months old, his name day ceremony prioritized those qualities.
“This is a tradition that normally happens when you turn 13,” Steel said, explaining that he was extremely sick as a baby. “The Elder who gave me my Native name believed that if I were given a strong name, it would help me.”
Steel was named Whitehawk, which he carries today as his middle name.
“That is the name I was given to show truth that I would live a happy, healthy life with clarity and focus,” he said. “My Native name is something I am extremely proud of.”
One thing Steel wants people to know about Native Americans is that they’re all unique.
“There are over 500 tribes and villages in the United States,” Steel said. “Even though we are all Native American, each tribe practices their own culture and honors and respects their own heritage in unique ways.”
Today, Steel serves as a platoon leader in the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and works full time in the National Guard Bureau’s Strength Maintenance Division.



Related Articles
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, conducted a mountain warfare exchange with Tajik military forces Apr. 29 to May 3, 2024, in Romit, Tajikistan. The exchange supported the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program.
Virginia Guard, Tajik Partners Conduct Mountain Warfare Exchange
By Mike Vrabel, | May 22, 2024
ROMIT, Tajikistan - Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, conducted a mountain warfare exchange with Tajik military forces Apr. 29 to May 3 in Romit. The...

Spc. Carter Cooper of the Virginia National Guard and Staff Sgt. Alexander Wilkinson-Johnson of the Maryland National Guard were named the National Guard Bureau’s Region Il Best Warriors for 2024 in the Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer categories at Aberdeen Proving Ground-Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, May 10, 2024.
Maryland, Virginia Guardsmen Are Regional Best Warriors
By Maj. Erica Mitchell, | May 13, 2024
EDGEWOOD, Md. – After four days of competition, Spc. Carter Cooper and Staff Sgt. Alexander Wilkinson-Johnson were named the National Guard Bureau’s Region II Best Warriors for 2024 in the Soldier of the Year and...

The Virginia National Guard has a new Integrated Primary Prevention Workforce of specialists to help maintain the force’s readiness and health. The team includes general prevention specialists and members focused on preventing workplace, sexual and family violence and abuse, harassment and self-directed harm.
Virginia Guard Takes Holistic Approach to Health, Readiness
By Mike Vrabel, | May 10, 2024
RICHMOND, Va. – While the Virginia National Guard has long had dedicated personnel ready to respond to a Soldier or Airman in crisis, a new team of specialists focuses on prevention to help maintain the force’s readiness and...