Story by Bryan Gatchell, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs
Photos by Markeith Horace, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs
Video by Shan Ogletree, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Nov. 17, 2017) – As part of National Native American Heritage Month, the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning held an observance at the National Infantry Museum Nov. 16.
The guest speakers at the event were brothers Chris and Charles Penick, and, given Charles’ background as a former Infantry first sergeant and the location at the Infantry Museum, their discussion of the “warrior ethos” was appropriate to the theme of the month “Honoring Warriors Past and Present.”
“That’s what brings us here, to honor the Soldier, the warriors, the Infantry in particular,” said Chris.
“Who are your people?” Charles asked the audience rhetorically. “They are Soldiers, and they are warriors all.”
Chris is the youngest brother, and Charles is the eldest. They belong to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a group of Cherokee descended from 91 families who retained their homeland in the face of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced the relocation of Native Americans to the Indian Territory, or present-day Oklahoma.
Charles said the warrior ethos was something all Native American tribes share.
“It’s a common factor,” he said. “To defend the people, to stand as a defense against any enemy, to preserve and protect the traditions and the fires of our loved ones and our tribes and our nation. It’s the greatest service a warrior can provide to his people, and all Native American tribes honor and respect that service. It goes back millennia. That’s why Native Americans serve so disproportionately in the Armed Forces of the United States.
“It’s a pleasure to share a culture and to highlight the contributions of all Native Americans,” Charles continued. “The warrior ethos, the warrior aspect of our culture is something that is unique and carries on with all the native tribes of this country, and it has for more than 200 years. We love serving our nations, our tribes and our people.”
As of 2016, there were 15,304 active duty Native Americans or Alaskan Natives in the U.S. Armed Forces, or approximately one of 93, according to the Department of Defense.
Charles highlighted the service of a few Native Americans who had served in the Armed Forces. During the 20th century, several recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor were Native Americans. He highlighted the service of Pfc. Charles George, an Infantry Soldier and member of the Cherokee, who protected his fellow Soldiers Nov. 30, 1952 during the Korean War when he “threw himself upon the grenade, absorbing the full blast of the explosion,” according to the citation.
“He’s a hero of two nations,” said Charles Penick. “He’s a hero of the Eastern Band of Cherokees, and he’s a hero of the United States. His legacy is written on the walls of this very building.”
As part of the ceremony, Charles presented an Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians flag to Greg Camp, the president of the National Infantry Museum Foundation.
“We will display this proudly in honor of Charles as well as all of those who served with him, past, present and future,” said Camp of Charles during the ceremony. And then to Charles, “and we hope you will come back here for another celebration next year and see your flag proudly displayed then.”
Chris, who also served as a military police Soldier and is currently a federal police officer, praised his brother’s service, specifically his service in the Infantry.
“Infantry is where the rubber meets the road,” said Chris. “Those guys do the dirty work, and they do the monotonous work day in and day out, and they never get recognized for it. My brother was a hero not only in that, but he taught me right from wrong.
“My brother is a true warrior, not only was he an Infantry guy – a true warrior in that aspect, in the Army – he was a warrior in right and wrong,” continued Chris. “He instructed me in the proper way of life, to honor our mothers. Each woman in my culture is our mother, and we take that to heart.”
Echoing an idea expressed by Charles during his remarks during the ceremony, Chris talked about his spirituality, and what it means in terms of service to community. He said because of his dual ancestry – he is Scottish on his father’s side as well as Cherokee on his mother’s – he adopted his spiritual beliefs from both.
“So I walk in those distinct worlds,” said Chris. “But it’s all the same to me. But we’re taught when we’re brought into this world that we’re not here for us. We’re not brought in by our creator for our benefit, for our good. It’s everybody surrounding us. We’re here for everybody else.”
Chris said what he wants people to take away from this event is the vitality of the people, the culture and the history.
“For us as native peoples, as indigenous peoples, we’re not dinosaurs; we’re not extinct,” said Chris. “We circulate amongst you. We are a living entity. We just want people to know that we’re still here, and we have a history. Not only that, but we have a living history.”
To see more photos from this event, visit www.fortbenningphotos.com/Ceremonies-and-Events/Off-Post-Events/2017-Community-Events/2017-11-16-National-Indian-Heritage-Month.
To learn more about Native Americans and Alaskan Natives in the Army, visit www.army.mil/standto/2017-11-01. To learn more about Native American and Alaskan Natives in the Department of Defense, visit www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/American-Indian-Heritage.