“…bag of smashed butt holes.”

I’ve always felt like I’ve done well when I’m sick. I don’t complain about it. I know I need rest. When I was a kid, I would just lay on the couch until I felt better. If it got worse, my Mom would take me to get ibuprofen from the Phoenix Indian Medical Center. But I usually recovered fine after a few days of laying on the couch and some sleep. I didn’t learn till the military how fortunate I was to have that time to recover from sickness. The worst cough I had was in the army during basic training; it’s also where I learned the worst insults… or the best depending if you were on the receiving end.

In week three of basic training, I got a cough, like everyone else it seemed. But having a small cough was worse in the army than it was at home. Reason being that we were only getting 4-5 hours of sleep interrupted by intermittent fire guard duty to watch weapons, wash clothes and clean the barracks. I sat there on top of my crisply made green wool olive drab blanket, nicely cocooned by my black military issue sleeping bag.

They don’t tell you this, but you don’t make your bed every morning. You could, but that would be stupid. There’s so little time between wake up, morning wiz, brushing teeth and shaving (even if it’s just natural beard hair) that making your bed was nonessential. So you make your bed perfectly once, and you sleep on top of it in a sleeping bag that you can stuff away in the morning. A semi-overweight kid in the platoon tried to make his bed each morning to which our drill sergeant said, “Private, you look like a can of biscuits that’s just popped open.” Surprisingly that one semi-overweight soldier who made his bed and was late most mornings only lasted a few more months past basic before getting washed out.

But I laid there in my black sleeping bag coughing every 1-3 minutes, enough to keep me from reaching any deep REM cycle. And just as you feel your body tire from the back to back sleepless coughing nights, someone taps your back for doing work that could have been completed when the sun was out. Even though according to the drill sergeant our clothes needed to be cleaned because our barracks smelled like a, “bag of smashed butt holes.” Coughing in your sleep is the worst, but it’s worse when you’re in the army.

Towards the end of the 9-week cycle, I remember standing in freezing weather with just my Army shorts and shirt shivering and coughing at sand hill in Fort Benning, GA. My desert blood wasn’t used to any cold weather, but there was no way I was going to sick call to risk being recycled. After finishing basic with a 6-week cough, I eventually ended up getting nasty flu during officer candidate school. Our platoon sergeant sent me to sick call where I received a magical Z pack that gave me 24-hour sweats, bubble guts and lucid dreams that ended with no cough and healed body. I always try to remember that some people out there are still walking around with sickness and haven’t found healing. It’s an awful burden to hold and life to live.

“I dreamt that I was riding a horse from the barracks into a green pasture…”

The warrior spirit is something you’re born with. It’s in your dreams, and it’s in your actions. Not to be confused with patriotism. Patriotism, on a surface level, being the love of country, the love of culture, and your devotion to those ideals; that is conditioned by your experiences. The warrior spirit is a calling, and something birthed in your dreams manifested in your action. I met a lot of officers throughout my time in the Army, who joined because of patriotism, and it’s evident in their actions.

I was sitting a gunnery range, getting ready to shoot the Abrams tank. My battle buddies and I were talking during the proverbial time known as, “Hurry up and wait.” During those times, soldiers talk about a gambit of subjects from time travel to religion, etc. One of the guys started teasing about getting free stuff, because I was Native. I normally let stuff like that go, and chalk it up as ignorance. But that day, he was talking about how I got free college, and free money, free everything. I looked at him after listening to him run his mouth for a few moments and said, “How’d you commission.” He said, “ROTC.” I asked, “Did they pay for your tuition.” He replied, “yes.” I said, “Well, the government didn’t pay my tuition, as far as I’m concerned, you get more free stuff than me. I volunteered to be here, because it was my calling. You’re here because of an obligation.” He never brought up free stuff to me again. My point being that our warrior spirit transcends obligation and duty, it’s a calling and a calling that is evident in our tribal Nations in the United States.

According the US Department of Defense in 2010, Native Americans have the highest per-capita commitment of any ethnic population to defend the United States. There are estimates that if other ethnicities volunteers to service were as high as Native Americans, there would have never been a need to draft for World War II or Vietnam. The rate of those Native volunteers for service indicates the warrior spirit calling; not an obligation. Lots of people joined out of obligation, but there is no explanation for so many Native volunteering, other than it must be our warrior spirit calling us to fight. But it also means we have lost warriors in battle. And especially within my own tribe, given us Quechans have fought in every major battle since the Spanish American war and fought in battles before Americans had a history.

It is inevitable that we would lose warriors along the way. I am grateful for people like my Uncle Peter Flame. He was born in 1906 and died on Dec. 11, 1944 in the Bataan Province Central Luzon, Philippines. He was a CPL in the US Marine Corp during World War II. The family first heard about some of his injuries when he was wounded in action on January 24th, 1942. On December 1, 1943 he was one of 244 taken as prisoners of war by Japanese Forces. On Friday, February 2, 1944, our Uncle Gerald V. Dewey received a card from Peter, The card was from Philippine Military Prison Camp No. 3. Uncle Peter wrote that he had not received any letters (although Dewey has written frequently) but that he is doing fine and “don’t worry.” However, on Dec. 11, 1944 CPL. Peter Flame was killed when the Japanese prison ship he was on sank. I am in awe of his selfless act. What I respect and admire the most is when he told our family, “don’t worry.” In the face of adversity, he was able to maintain composure. He embodied the warrior spirit that runs in our blood as Quechans. The men and women who died for our Tribal Nation/ Nation leave a powerful legacy to their families. We must remember to carry on those legacies, and ask ourselves what am I doing with the sacrifices of my ancestors.

It’s one of the major reasons I joined the Army. I had my uncles in Vietnam and grandfathers in World War II, great Uncles, and cousins that served. I knew I had to join up, because I knew I was born with that warrior spirit. It had to manifest itself through military service, and since I was a kid I had dreams about it. My dreams have constantly guided me, and even in the little parts of my life.

The way I chose to be an armor officer was because of a dream. Our tribe believes in dreams and dream power, and although not explicitly I know a lot of other people believe in their dreams as well. But it also has to be coupled with action and performance. I remember it was the night before we were about to choose our military occupation or job. I was torn between two occupations, one being infantry and the second being armor. And that night I had a dream.  In my dream, I was riding into the battlefield. I dreamt that I was riding a horse from the barracks into a green pasture, almost like in the Battle of Little Big Horn. And although I had short military style haircut back then, in my dream I had my long hair flowing in the wind like a Native fabio. And I rode into battle with the M-16 in my hand, waving it in the air like a AIM NDN. I rode back-and-forth from the battlefield to the barracks with my horse and M16. I woke up the next morning and knew I had to choose armor.

I’m thankful for the tradition I carry. But I’m most grateful for God giving me a warrior spirit that carries me, and continues to give me dreams to guide me along life’s journeys.

“… history talks about the “hefty” Quechan women who killed men in battle.”

We know Native women are tough. I’ve seen it in my Mom, cousins, and sisters. And we also know some Native women can work over a man any day of the week. I’ve heard it, and seen it. Our tribal warfare history talks about the “hefty” Quechan women who killed men in battle… and if you saw or heard the women in our tribe, you would know they are descendants of women who could fight. The real Wonder Women, the true “Amazons.”

I love hanging out with all my cousins, but honestly, they scare me sometimes. One of my female cousins used to always sleep outside under the stars on our rez with all the snakes and scorpions. I remember as a kid admiring how tough she was for doing that. But my sisters could be a little tough and scary at times too. I had a bladder infection when I was 8, and constantly had to use the restroom. My sister scared the bus driver into waiting for me as I ran off the bus to use the restroom in our house. It wasn’t always in my defense though, because one time they both jumped on top of me and gave me a wedgie till my underwear broke. But my sisters were like that; aggressive when they needed to be.

And in some ways, knowing how rough my sisters and cousins were, I knew I probably shouldn’t marry a woman from my tribe for the fear of getting beat up… and plus we’re all probably cousins because the tribe is so small. So, I married a Mexican… only problem is now I’m afraid of getting stabbed. And I know it’s messed up, but it’s kind of true. I just accept it though. Like, aw man, one day I know it’s gonna happen. Vanessa is gonna get mad at me and take a razor from her hair and shank me. But it’s also kind of exciting, like no telling what’s gonna happen tomorrow. And when I really think about, she’s Indigenous too. Violence generally isn’t cool, but at the same time I like that the women in my life are tough.

I’ve been saddened, amazed, and challenged by hearing of all the #metoo stories this week. The strength and the resiliency is nothing short of amazing when I hear what some women (probably most) have endured regarding sexual harassment and assault. It’s been a topic on my mind for the last few years, and admittedly probably should have been on my radar much sooner. But as I know women in our tribe have undoubtedly have faced sexual harassment, violence, or assault I still see them as those warriors. Women warriors who can fight, and the stories I’ve heard from my family and friends are proof of that. I only hope that the strength they have displayed to tell their stories is something that my daughter will adopt in her life. At the end of the day, I think it means I need to make sure Luna is one of the “hefty” Quechan women who could fend off any enemy.

“I was 8-years old, and this kid looked like a Mack truck.”

My Dad discouraged fighting, but I never got in trouble for it either. Let’s face it, fighting to protect, defend, and strengthen our tribe is a part of our Warrior Spirit. Beside the point, my Dad has a ton of scars from fighting. Including a large gash in his arm when he was cut by glass, a scar on his head from being hit with a pipe, and a bunch of other remnants of his early brawler years before becoming a minister. Because my Dad was a Christian minister, I also knew I was supposed to turn the other cheek, I just wasn’t good at it.

One of my first fights I remember was in Los Angeles county in the city of Bell Gardens. Some Natives who participated in the Urban relocation program that followed WWII found themselves there around the 1950s. In the city was a small Native church that was a sanctuary for Christian and non-Christian Natives who migrated to the area to find economic opportunities. My Dad was asked to go preach there one spring and, as always, my Mom, Sisters, and I followed along. While my Dad was preaching, I went in children’s church. There awaited this ginormous Native kid who stood about a foot taller than me and weighed about 20lbs more. I was 8-years old, and this kid looked like a Mack truck. He kept poking me for no apparent reason, and telling me a bunch of stuff I can’t remember. When service was over, my Dad was still talking with people. My sister Camie and I decided to wait outside for my parents to get done chatting it up, and as we were waiting, that humungous Native kid came back. We were around these pillars outside the church, and I kept trying to head back to where my Dad was, but he kept blocking the way. My sister stepped in, and said, “Leave us alone.” He didn’t listen, and kept poking me and then teasing my sister. I knew what I had to do.

I remembered my God brother who was a few years older than me was teaching me how to throw a real punch. He told me, “All you have to do, is pull your fist back as far as it can go, and then push your fist forward as hard as you can.” I don’t know how he knew, I don’t think he had been in a fight yet either.

But I could hear my God Brother’s voice in my ear, like he was my boxing trainer, “Pull your fist back, and let it rip in his face.” Well that kid came around that pillar about ready to poke me again. Only this time, my fist was cocked as far back as I could pull it, and with as much might as an 8-year old had, I ferociously threw my fist forward. It felt like a dream, and no sooner after my fist met his nose there was blood everywhere. I mean everywhere. I must have broken the kid’s nose. I was never more scared in my life than that moment because I knew I had really hurt this bully, and I understood I should have turned the other cheek. I decided my parents couldn’t find out what happened. I watched that bully try to hold a pool of blood in his hand as he headed into the women’s restroom with his sister. I was freaking out and wasn’t sure what was going to happen, because although my Dad never seriously punished me for fighting, he just got done preaching. So, I immediately went to my Dad, asked for the car keys, and contemplated driving away. Well I was 8-years old, and that made no sense. So I did what any 8-year old kid would do to avoid trouble. I fell asleep.

When I did wake up, we were at Denny’s. The pastor and his wife took our family out to lunch. During lunch the Pastor’s wife said, “I don’t know what happened, but there was a bunch of blood outside and in the women’s restroom.” I didn’t say a word, and just quietly kept eating my club sandwich in remorse. (I finally told the Pastor’s wife about this a few years ago… she didn’t remember, but I hope whoever I punched is okay). But now you know, don’t poke people.

“I didn’t want to deport all White people, just the criminals”

The essay I wrote on why I wanted to be an Army officer, should have contained the text below…

Throughout my childhood my Dad always asked me, “J.D., what do you want to be when you grow up.” I wasn’t very good at school and I often skipped months out of the year by missing the bus and/or telling my parents I had a chronic diarrhea problem. In my naïve mind, I thought maybe I would be a border patrol officer.

Our reservation is along the Colorado River on the California and Arizona state boundaries. It also happens to border a relatively safe crossing to Mexico, and one reason we get lots of winter visitors who like to cross over to get their medicine and teeth worked on. But, most of the land is on the California side with a small land base in Arizona… just enough for a casino. Due to the close proximity of Mexico, growing up I would see border patrol officers. To me, the border patrol officers had it made. They have guns, cruise around in a 4×4, and chase people off their land that didn’t belong there. Sounds like a dream job for a Native person. But when I found out I couldn’t deport White people, I changed my mind….(I didn’t want to deport all White people, just the criminals). Needless to say, being a border patrol officer was no longer compelling to me.

Our Quechan Nation, has a strong warrior tradition. As a kid the tradition was evident as I witnessed our veterans lead events on my rez. I remember watching all the WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm vets lead our parades.  It was mostly men, that resembled Sponge Bob (square body, skinny legs, and a flat butt) who would be holding the colors and you could see in their eyes the reminisce of their time in war. But it wasn’t just the men, throughout our history our matriarch carried and still carries the warrior spirit (I didn’t mention our women right away, because I didn’t want you to think they look like Sponge Bob too). Every moment I saw the Quechan warriors lead our ceremonies, I could feel my warrior spirit yearning and calling. I knew that I was one of those warriors, and no one had to tell me or could tell me otherwise.

Practically speaking, I knew eventually I would inherit a commod bod, and so as a kid I did my best to train as a soldier. I think for most kids, we would get a general understanding from TV, and for some training I thought the GI Joes could teach me. But our black and white TV had vice grips, and foil antenna. So even if we did get reception, I still wasn’t allowed to watch the cartoon because my Dad said I was already too violent. The one thing going for me was that I had nine Uncles in Vietnam, and one who I often spent summers with. My Uncle Gordie, a dark Quechan man who had a white spot on wrist where he would wear his watch every day. He was and still is our tribe’s Game Warden. Not only was he in war, but he knew about tracking, animals, shooting, hunting, fishing, fighting, etc. He was like Billy from Predator but real life. During our summers he would tell me some war stories when my Auntie Dodo wasn’t around. He told me about horrific helicopter crashes, adrenaline in a fire fight, the dancing mouse tattoo he got on his leg while drunk on leave. He taught me how to play poker, slam bones, and about the meaning of being a Quechan warrior through his actions. It was a good thing I had my Uncle(s).

Anyways… I wish this was part of my essay on why I wanted to join the Army.