Sgt. Patrick Nezzie’s grandfather, Chester Nez, was one of the original 29 Marine Corps Navajo code talkers of World War II. Today, Nezzie, a cavalry scout assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, continues to share with Soldiers some of the same language his grandfather used as a code talker.
Nezzie taught them that yaateeh means hello.
“All my Soldiers want to learn how to speak my language. So, I started showing them one word a day and they can introduce themselves,” he said. “They can basically hold a short conversation.”
How apropos?
In honor of November as National Native American Heritage Month, Nezzie displayed turquoise jewelry made by his grandfather, a basket weaved of corn husk, Navajo tea and other articles at Fort Bragg’s Native American Indian Heritage Month 2017 Observance, Nov. 29, held at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy.
Hosted by the 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade and Equal Opportunity, this year’s theme was “Service, Honor, and Respect … Strengthening Our Cultures and Communities through Awareness.”
It is important for the military to understand the contributions of Native Americans, Nezzie said.
“In my culture, we have helped the U.S. military as far back as anyone can remember,” he explained. “My grandfather … was one of my biggest influences to join the military.”
His service does not stand alone.
According to Army G-1, American Indians historically have the highest record of military service per capita in comparison to other ethnic groups. Today, more than 9,000 Native Americans serve in the Total Force.
Nezzie’s military lineage, he said, also includes his great-grandfather and several uncles.
Sgt. Jermayne Henry, of the 3rd Psychological Operations Battalion, is a member of the White Mount Apache tribe and a six-year military veteran.
She said it’s important for fellow service members to learn about NAI history.
“I think it’s important to see what we have in our culture and our background and see how every tribe is different, because they’re not all the same.”
According to Henry, sunrise services, for instance, are a coming-of-age rite for White Mount Apache women who reach puberty.
Sgt. 1st Class Melissa Spradlin, XVIII Airborne Corps, said she supported the observance to show appreciation for all the diverse cultures that service members come from, as well as to celebrate the history of NAI Soldiers who served before her.
Some other observance activities included a speech by Lt. Col. Benjamin Lipari, commander, 192nd Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), who noted the distinguished service of Keith Harper, the first Native American (Cherokee) U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council; as well as storytelling by Ramona Moore Big Eagle, of the Tuscarora nation, Maxton, North Carolina. She spoke of the oneness of people and animals, returning to the Biblical story of Adam, Eve and the snake in the Garden of Eden, who each communicated the same language.
“All of life is a story. When we are communicating with each other, we are sharing a story,” Big Eagle said. “There was a time when all of us spoke the same language and lived in peace and harmony together.”
According to Big Eagle, Tuscarora members belong to the Iroquois confederacy and are called the “People of the Long Houses” — not teepees, with reservations in Maxton and in Lewiston, New York. They wear clothing known as regalia, not costumes, with the latter more frequently associated with Halloween.
During November, previous activities to celebrate Native American Indian Heritage Month at Fort Bragg included a cake cutting at the North Post Exchange on Nov. 1; artifacts and books displays at the North and South Post exchanges, Throckmorton Library and the Soldier Support Center, Nov. 6 to 9; and a cultural meal of Choctaw stew, roasted turkey with apple and cranberry relish, corn, gazpacho, harvest rice, Jicama salad, Indian pudding, sweet potato casserole and other Native cuisine at the Provider Café Dining Facility, Nov. 29.
For more information about the contributions of Native American Indians to the Armed Forces, visit