Fort Bragg celebrated Native American Indian heritage at the 82nd Airborne Division Chapel, Nov. 15.

The United States recognized November as National Native American Indian Heritage Month in 1990. This year, the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade organized and hosted Fort Bragg’s program to honor the American Indian culture.

“It’s important for us to recognize the contributions of Native Americans to our history of the United States of America. Equally significant are the commitments and achievements of Native Americans in our Army,” said Col. Mike Musiol,  82nd CAB commander.

The program featured a traditional drum and dance performed by members of North Carolina’s Lumbee Tribe, a traditional storyteller, also from the Lumbee Tribe, and Dr. Jay Hansford Vest, of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Vest, a professor of American Indian Studies, emphasized the significance of Native Americans in the U.S. military.

Of about 3 million American Indians in the United States, nearly 150,000 are military veterans.  The largest, per-capita service to the United States military comes from Native Americans, said Vest

The stories of his parents, who were among this group of veterans, were passed on to Vest in the Native American tradition of oral storytelling.

“I feel a great kinship to the airborne because of my father’s service. I was raised with the oral stories of his combat as a paratrooper in World War II,” Vest said. “It’s a great honor for me to even be here.”

Such spoken stories have kept the professor and other Native Americans in touch with the legacies of their ancestors for many years.

“Traditionally, we were oral people, so we kept our stories alive one generation to the next by word of mouth,” Vest said.

The college professor certainly did his part to share the legacy of his people with the troopers in the audience.

“I hope that your sons and daughters will tell your stories for you,” Vest said. “As a warrior, you want that legacy passed on.”

The heritage celebration was eye-opening for some Soldiers who attended.

“The event helped me know more about the Native American history. I didn’t realize so many American Indians had served in the military with us,” said Spc. Hector Irizarry, of the 82nd CAB.

Perhaps Irizarry and others who attended the observance will give thanks for their increased understanding of the country’s Native American heritage in a few weeks when they gather with their friends and Families for the holiday.

“It is fitting that we have this observance in the month of November with Thanksgiving less than two weeks away,” Musiol said. “It is an important tradition in this country.”