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    From Code Talkers to COVID Talkers; Arizona National Guard Soldiers build upon Navajo military legacy

    Arizona National Guard service members assist the Public Heath Service on the Navajo Nation

    Photo By Master Sgt. Michael Matkin | Spc. Paige Curtiss, 253rd Engineer Battalion, food service specialist, speaks to a...... read more read more



    Story by Tech. Sgt. Michael Matkin 

    161st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs   

    The Navajo Nation has a distinct history of honorable service in the U.S. Armed Forces most notably with the actions of the world-renowned Navajo Code Talkers.

    Their native language is credited with helping the Allies’ achieve victory during WWII, and, today, this tradition continues in the Arizona National Guard.

    Three Arizona Citizen Soldiers use their first language at an alternate care site in Chinle, Arizona, to advance the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic on Navajo Nation where, according to statistics from the Navajo Department of Health, they have suffered the highest per-capita infection rate in the U.S.

    “I was on the first mission here, March 29, to set up this facility,” said Pvt. Ryan Manuelito, an infantryman with the Arizona National Guard’s 1-158th Infantry Battalion. “I appreciate being able to come back and help my people, the Diné People.”

    These Arizona National Guard members are assisting public health services by translating critical medical-care needs information to COVID-19 patients.

    “As the first patient entered the alternate care site, the need for a Navajo translator was quickly realized,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Grace Ogeson, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Chinle Task Force. “Although a mission tasking order was put out requesting Navajo speakers, the soldiers who responded had requested, and wanted, to work in the Navajo community.”

    According to the public health services personnel on the Nation, having Navajo translators on the mission has made a significant impact to patient care. These Navajo Citizen-Soldiers are communicating patients’ needs such as hygiene, food preferences, and details of symptoms for treatment to medical professionals charged with their care that would otherwise be more complicated by a language barrier.

    Spc. Lynnrae Acothley, a combat medic with the Arizona National Guard’s 996th Area Support Medical Company, said she trains to work in a field trauma setting, but since this mission is similar to a hospital setting, she has had the opportunity to interact with patients in a different way.

    “I was able to help an elderly woman who was brought in and only spoke Navajo,” said Acothley. “I could see that she felt relieved when she saw me and recognized my ability to communicate with her. It just reminded me of my grandparents, and I feel like I'm taking care of somebody's grandma; and it makes me feel good.”

    Spc. Paige Curtiss, a food service specialist with the Arizona National Guard’s 253rd Engineer Battalion explained that the patients also feel as though the service members are family too. She said, in Navajo culture, it is always respectful to say your name, who your parents are, who your great grandparents were and what clan you come from.

    “There's this intermix of, ‘okay, maybe this person is my niece in some kind of way,’ or, ‘you're my family member,’” said Curtiss. “That makes a familial connection so the patients are more willing to be helpful with anything you ask them, and they are more comfortable.”

    The patients, healthcare workers and the community are grateful of the support provided by the Arizona National Guard during this pandemic.

    “It’s not just the patients who feel more comfortable with the Arizona National Guard here helping,” said Manuelito, who is originally from the Chinle area. “The local community sees the National Guard helping, and it makes them feel safer.”

    Curtiss and Acothley agreed that they are more effective because they are part of the community and they know the community members. Hearing from family members and listening to different members throughout the community, everyone is very grateful for having their elderly taken care of and having the National Guard involved in that care.

    “They are super grateful that we are here and so am I,” said Acothley. “Every military training class that I went to and sat through, all the training I’ve done, and all you do just being a service member - it’s these moments that make it worth it.”

    Diné is how the Navajo people refer to themselves. It means “The People” or “Children of the Holy People”.



    Date Taken: 06.30.2020
    Date Posted: 06.30.2020 16:40
    Story ID: 373151
    Location: CHINLE, AZ, US 

    Web Views: 196
    Downloads: 2