From the Four Corners to the Final Frontier

  • Published
  • By Airman Carson Jeney
  • 354th Maintenance Group

For generations, the warrior ethos has been instilled into young Native Americans like U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Byron Mitchell, a member of the Navajo tribe from the Four Corners region, through traditions and modern life lessons which he feels prepared him for the military.

“My grandpas and uncles were in wars from the beginning of the Afghan War and Vietnam War, so they knew how hard life is—they were always tough on us,” said Mitchell. “We grew up without running water or electricity so that resiliency helped make the military easy for us.”

In the present, Mitchell uses his upbringing to foster a culture of diversity and resiliency as a chaplain’s assistant with the 354th Maintenance Group. Part of a chaplain’s mission is to bolster Airmen's resilience and help strengthen relationships.

“What inspires me about the job is what we do every day,” said Mitchell. “Seeing folks, checking on them, visiting Airmen, their units, training them for relationships, or interpersonal skills. I just like seeing their faces when they’re going through those trainings, or the events, and coming out different or a little bit stronger.”

Mitchell’s supervisor, U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Jammie Bigbey, the 354th Maintenance Group unit chaplain, believes Mitchell fosters an environment of embracing an individual’s cultural identity.

“One of his passions is demonstrating to individuals from Native American heritage, who may be hesitant about enlisting, that the military is a place where you can preserve your cultural heritage while serving,” said Bigbey. “Recently, he went to a conference with the Air Force working group Indigenous Nations Equality Team, where he had the opportunity to engage with recent graduates, share his personal journey, and participate in a panel discussion.”

The Indigenous Nations Equality Team (INET) is a resource group for the indigenous nation’s community that reviews and analyzes guidelines, programs, data, and other information which stands as barriers to employment, advancement, and retention of indigenous military members.

Far from home in Alaska, Mitchell participates in local events to embrace the cultural activities of others, like attending WEIO (World Eskimo-Indian Olympics) and connecting with Native Alaskan tribes like the Athabascans and the Dene. He also takes the time to strengthen his own ties to his Navajo culture with daily activities.

“I’ve gotten into bow making, and when I’m doing it, I’ll call my grandparents and my uncles and ask ‘Hey, what does this mean in Navajo’ or what the story behind it is,” said Mitchell. “Doing activities and hobbies that are part of my tribe and learning the culture while doing it is how I actively participate in it.”

Along with cultural activities, Mitchell is able to embrace his Navajo background by keeping his long with a hair waiver in accordance with DAFI 52-201, Religious Freedom in the Department of the Air Force.

“Having long hair symbolizes physical strength and intellectual knowledge,” said Mitchell. “It represents a bond between our Mother Earth and Father Sky because we are the children of both of them. It shows respect to the natural laws of things given to us Navajos from our holy people.”

Mitchell says people should not be afraid to ask other service members about their heritage while we celebrate this month.

“Navajo is my tribe, but there's other members here that are from different tribes,” said Mitchell.  “Just ask questions, be curious about their culture and understand where they are coming from and who they are.”

The Air Force’s diversity program is dedicated to building a force with diverse backgrounds, skills, and experiences to enhance Airmen’s ability to accomplish the mission. To learn more about this program go to