By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
ALEXANDRIA, Va., Nov. 1, 2006 – Diversity helps make the military strong, and understanding cultural differences is a key to forming a cohesive force capable of meeting today’s challenges, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey was at Army Human Resources Command for a National American Indian Heritage Month celebration. Native American Indian Heritage Month is celebrated in November every year.
After watching a program of traditional Native American songs and dances, Gainey noted in an interview that Native Americans have contributed greatly to the military and the country throughout the years. About 2.1 percent of the current military is Native American, he said.
“Look at the military; walk into a room and look at the different cultures. You’ll never find one culture, one society in the military,” Gainey said. “And we have to understand each other, because if you don’t understand each other, your brothers and your sisters of the armed services, I don’t think we’ll ever get together; we’ll never figure it out.”
Gainey, who is three-quarters Cherokee, spoke during the event about his heritage and how proud he is to be Native American. He shared three keepsakes that remind him of his culture — an etching of an Indian head made by his daughter before his first deployment to Bosnia; a feather presented to him by an Apache Army staff sergeant after a battle in Iraq; and a “coup stick,” a special stick traditionally used by American Indians in battle to show bravery, that was presented to him when he left Fort Knox, Ky.
Gainey encouraged all those in the audience to get in touch with their heritage.
“You cannot forget where you come from, because if you don’t know where you come from, you’ll never know where you’re going,” Gainey said. “It’s very important to recognize all the different cultures that make up this melting pot called the United States.”
Robert “Swift Arrow” Rose, a dancer and representative of the Cherokee government who performed several traditional Cherokee dances for the celebration, said that recognizing Native American culture is important, because it passes on a legacy of understanding and tolerance to future generations.
“For the next generations of children, they will have this indoctrination; they will understand this, and then will have more cohesive societies understanding one another,” Rose said. “We know it’s up to us to continue to educate and share in this way.”