CAMP TAJI, Iraq — The role of Native Americans in the annals of Army history is one characterized by courage and unwavering bravery in the face of conflict.
These attributes are recognized every November with the staging of Native American Heritage Month, which displays the spirit of the culture and their achievements.
This spirit also carries over to the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade in the form of Sgt. Amber Red Bear, a Native American who has lived and practiced the culture her whole life, both in and out of the Army.
From a young age, Red Bear, from Pine Ridge, S.D., said she was taught traditional Native American values by her father.
"My father instilled [the traditions] in me and each day he taught me something different, from cooking and sewing to music and dancing," Red Bear, 29, said. "There was always a meaning behind everything he taught me because it was a life lesson learned."
Red Bear grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation as part of the Lakota Tribe and said her father encouraged her to participate in various Native American activities on their land.
"My dad would have me go to pow-wows and perform," Red Bear said. "Sometimes I didn't want to go ... I wanted to play with my friends instead."
But her father insisted she attend, Red Bear said, attending her first pow-wow at the age of seven.
"At first I didn't know what I was doing. You just get out there and do it," Red Bear said. "It's been 10 years since I did it and I miss it."
As she got older Red Bear began to understand why her father wanted her to learn about their heritage, teaching her everything he knew about the Lakota Indians.
"It was all about instilling it in me. I learned from it and I'm still learning from it," Red Bear said. "I wish I was more fluent with [my native] language because it's fading away and the new generation isn't willing to learn."
With the knowledge of her culture ingrained in her, Red Bear joined the Army, which she said she had always wanted to do.
"I knew I didn't want to keep going to school, I wanted to do something else," Red Bear said. "When I was 15, I knew I was going to join the military because I'm a competitive person and it was the right thing for me to do."
Red Bear said being a full-blooded Native American has given her a unique position in the Army, something she relishes.
"You don't see a lot of Native American's in the military, so every day I'll get the question, 'Is that your real name?' plus a lot of other simple questions," she said. "I enjoy it because I stand out a lot and the attention is positive."
"My father used to say, 'Your pride is what keeps you going, so don't forget who you are,'" Red Bear added. "It makes me who I am."
Red Bear said being inactive with her culture sometimes bothers her, due to the demands of the Army.
"I have a son and he always asks me questions and if I don't have the answer I'll ask my dad," Red Bear explained. "He is at that age now where it's all up to me to teach him what I was taught. But right now my father is giving him his training."
Red Bear is on her fourth deployment, which makes the distance between herself and her eight-year-old son Adrian more difficult.
"I've spent 34 months in Iraq, so it is hard. I left my son when he was three and now he's going to be nine," Red Bear said. "I call him and let him know that I can't guarantee if I'm going to come home or not, but I'm still here for him regardless."
While in Iraq, Red Bear uses Native American Heritage Month as an opportunity chance to teach other Soldiers about her culture.
"In the military a lot of people have never seen a Native American ... so it's good to feel pride talking about who you are," she said. "Just the expression on people's faces makes it worthwhile."
"I get excited because I have that attention on me. I'm teaching people and I like it," Red Bear said.
As for her distinctive name, Red Bear said it has no real meaning, despite being colorful and unique.
"My father told me that back in the day our name was totally different," she said. "It was a long name and somehow they shortened it down to Red Bear. Everyone sees the color in it, but mainly it's self explanatory."
So was there ever a red bear in Native American mythology?
"Unfortunately not," Red Bear said with a grin.
This work, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade Native American holds tradition dear, by Alun Thomas, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.