JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – “I belong to the Navajo Tribe,” said Spc. Denise Smith, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter maintainer assigned to Delta Company, 2-158 Assault Helicopter Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. ”
Spc. Smith is a soldier from Tolani Lake, Arizona, in the southwestern region of the Navajo Nation. Navajo Nation is a Native American reservation occupying portions of southeastern Utah, northwestern New Mexico, and northeastern Arizona.
Although Smith was raised on a reservation, she did not have the same traditional upbringing as many Native Americans in her community.
“My parents chose to teach my brothers and I Christianity,” Smith said. “They also put us in a private Christian school on the reservation.”
As she grew up, her mother often spoke of the difficulties she encountered just speaking the Navajo language. Because of this, she decided not to teach her children the language.
“I still ask them to teach me phrases and words here and there,” Smith said. “I hope to someday become fluent in the Navajo language.”
Mastery of the Navajo language is very important to her. She hopes to one day be able to pass the language on to her children and grandchildren. The number of Navajo speakers is on the decline, and she believes it is up to her and other Navajo speakers not only to keep them alive in their families, but also to pass them on to other tribe members lest the language fade away.
“Because of my cultural upbringing, I feel very family-oriented,” Smith said. “We value and respect our families and are always close to each other.”
Although Smith was not raised with some traditions, such as the language, she still keeps the traditional Navajo family orientation alive; It doesn’t take a big holiday or special occasion for her family to get together. Growing up so close to her family only influenced her decision to join the army because she knew she would have their support.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to serve in the military,” Smith said.
With the support and backing of her family, she is glad she stuck to her decision to serve in the army.
“I’m very proud to serve,” Smith said. “My family is also very proud, especially my paternal grandfather who also served in the army.”
Spc. Smith feels her army experience is going very well. She had the opportunity to meet people from all over the country and collect many memories. Your first place of work after completing basic combat training and job-specific individual training was the Republic of Korea. At this point in her life, it was the longest and furthest time she had ever been away from home.
“It was initially difficult for me to leave my family for the army because I had never really left home before,” Smith said. “I’ve managed to keep my spirits up by meeting new people and making friends in my unit when I’ve been homesick.”
After being stationed in Korea, she was posted to Washington, where she met her husband. In addition to the new friends she made during her army trip, she has also started a family of her own.
Smith is currently expecting a baby girl whom she hopes to raise in the traditions of the Navajo community, including her native language.
The month of November is Native American Heritage Month. Native Americans have served with honor, dedication, and distinction, and have a long legacy of service in the Army. This celebration is an opportunity for us to recognize and celebrate the service of current Native American soldiers and over 150,000 veterans who have come from these communities.