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Native American History Month; Serving our Nations John Bennett Herrington
Chickasaw Nation member and retired Navy commander, John Bennett Herrington
by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ignacio D. Perez, Defense Media Activity
14 November 2016
One Navy Team
It's hard enough for someone to selflessly serve their nation with enough dedication to be selected to work on the International Space Station. But to also give back to their heritage and culture the way, a member of the Chickasaw Nation and retired Navy commander, John Bennet Herrington has represented the important influence diversity plays within the United States.
Herrington is noted for his work with riding across the United States educating youth in the areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), logging over 3,000 hours as a naval pilot and as the first Native American to walk in space.
Like most children growing up John wanted to be an astronaut, and like most he had no idea what or how one actually became one. It's because this reason he finds it important to engage and motivate Native American youth in the fields of math and science.
"The idea is that, the folks who learn math and science, we're going to be the ones who change the world we live in. There are a lot of kids out there who may not have had a role model and the reality is that they can achieve that [becoming an astronaut] if they so choose," said Herrington.
With his experience as a naval test pilot and graduating U.S. Naval Postgraduate School with a Master of Science degree in aeronautical engineering, Herrington realized his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut was attainable.
"At naval test pilot school, I realized that many people who had graduated before me in the late '50s, early '60s, had been NASA astronauts," recalled Harrington. "I was in the same schools, doing the same career path, I dreamed about being an astronaut but I didn't realize there was a reality of that. But it became a reality year's later."
NASA selected Herrington as an astronaut in 1996, where he served as a member of the Astronaut Support Personnel Team responsible for shuttle launch preparations and post-landing operations. When Herrington took that first step out into space to install the 45-foot, 14-ton girder called Port 1, he was prepared for history he would make for his nations - the first Native American in space.
Herrington honored his heritage during that walk by carrying six eagle feathers, a braid of sweet grass, two arrowheads and the flag of the Chickasaw Nation.
He looks back at the accomplishment his ancestors completed before modern technology, as the reason why he believes the perspective of Native Americans to be important.
"Native people have been very talented engineers and scientists for millennia. They did it for survival; they created huge mounds, built by hand, aligned with the cardinal directions. How did they do that? Measure things out? And build it? It took a lot of expertise to do that. So those were remarkable engineers thousands of years ago. That's directly related. So that's near and dear to my heart," said Herrington.
After leaving NASA, Herrington embarked on a remarkable 4,000-mile coast-to-coast bike tour across the United States, dubbed 'Rocketrek', making pit-stops at schools along the way to inspire and encourage students of the opportunities in the areas science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"The generation that grew up in the age of the Apollo program and the journey to the moon was motivated by the excitement of space and the possibilities that it brought to the nation," said Herrington. "Those kinds of possibilities to explore the unknown and make new discoveries still exist, but we must motivate students to learn and have a way to connect what they learn to what they do on a daily basis."
Herrington recently earned his Ph.D. in Education and continues to inspire youth, and particularly those of Native American heritage, in the quest of knowledge. With all of his contributions to both of his nations Herrington has shown the significant contribution diversity has played with in our history.
Two Civil War Generals of Distinction
Stan Watie (Cherokee) joined the Confederate Army to become a notoriously fearsome General and the last Confederate General to Surrender. Ely S. Parker (Seneca) whose father fought in the War of 1812, enlisted into the Union Army rose to become General and served on the staff of Ulysses S. Grant.
12,000 for World War 1
When World War I started, American Indians were not considered U.S. citizens, but that did not stop approximately 12,000 Natives from volunteering to serve in the U.S. military. In addition, four American Indian soldiers serving in the 142nd Infantry of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division received the Croix de Guerre medal from France.
Native Women Doing Their Part
During WWI, 14 American Indian women served in the Army Nurse Corps, with two of them serving overseas. Mrs. Cora E. Sinnard, (Oneida) and Charlotte Edith (Anderson) Monture (Mohawk) both served as Army Nurses in France at a military hospital to lend their skills toward the war efforts overseas.
A Draft Could Have Been Avoided
War Department officials have stated that during WWII, if the entire population had enlisted at the same rate American Indians did, Selective Service would have been unnecessary. According to the Selective Service in 1942, at least 99 percent of all eligible Indians, healthy males aged 21 to 44, had registered for the draft. The annual enlistment for Native Americans jumped from 7,500 in the summer of 1942 to 22,000 at the beginning.
90 Percent Volunteer through Vietnam Era
Throughout the Vietnam Era, American Indians enlisted in the military to the tune of more than 42,000 - 90 percent of them were volunteers, with the others serving trough draft selection. After Vietnam, Natives have continued to serve in high numbers. Since that time, Native service members have seen military action and combat in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Gulf War, and in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND).
* Native Indian Country Media Network