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America Supports You: Wounded Warriors Join Native Americans for Powwow

By Michael E. Dukes
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2005 – Nine Operation Iraqi Freedom soldiers being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for war wounds and other ailments joined Native Americans from across the continent to participate in a sacred celebration of American Indian culture and pride - the 2005 National Powwow at the MCI Center arena here on Aug. 12.

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Recovering war-wounded soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center step into the main stage area of the National Powwow at MCI Center arena in Washington on Aug. 12. Event officials invited the soldiers to be honored guests and as fellow warriors who have dedicated themselves to defending their people. Photo by Michael E. Dukes

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The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian invited the soldiers as honored guests to march in the Grand Entry behind the honor guard and attending American Indian dignitaries. According to news reports, more than 800 dancers and color guard members performed at the Aug. 12-14 event, which drew thousands of attendees .

"On several occasions before the powwow I had some discussions with Native American veterans who felt that it was important to honor individuals who have served their country but, most importantly, folks from Walter Reed (and other places) who have made significant sacrifices," said the museum's Terry Snowball . "Native Americans hold their veterans in high esteem and it has long been an honorable tradition to serve as protectors of their people."

Throughout the history of America and its conflicts there has been a Native American presence, Snowball said. They've served in campaigns as scouts against other tribes and in the service of the various republics and nations who were here. "They've served America during the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and so on," he added.

"Collectively I believe that all of the tribes that were present and the people in the audience were honored to be in the presence of individuals with such courage and selflessness," Snowball said. "Everyone, as soldiers of one great nation (native and non-native alike), serves their country with honor and that's what Indian people respect and that is what they wished to share with the folks at Walter Reed."

As the Grand Entry kicked off the powwow, the master of ceremonies introduced the hundreds of participants in the event. Dressed in colorful outfits, Native Americans of all ages performed dances and songs to the beat of traditional drums. The honored guests - patients from Walter Reed - sat in reserved seats a few feet from the performance near the reviewing stand.

Performers put on their best show as they danced in front of the recovering war wounded. Throughout the event, Native Americans and other attendees came over to the soldiers, shook their hands and thanked them for their service to the United States.

"I thought it was awesome," said Sgt. Debra Oliver, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran at the event. "It was a great cultural experience."

Oliver said she was honored to be a part of her first powwow. "The spirit in the room just moves you and everybody there was so friendly," she said.

(Michael E. Dukes works for Walter Reed Army Medical Center Public Affairs Office.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA Native American who served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War dances at the National Powwow in Washington on Aug. 12. Over the years the powwow has changed along with the people who celebrate it and has become a dynamic and creative expression of Indian identity and pride. Photo by Michael E. Dukes  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Larry Murdock, a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, watches powwow participants perform a few feet from his chair Aug. 12. Murdock, along with eight other OIF soldiers being treated at Walter Reed were invited to the National Powwow by event organizers as a way to show respect and appreciation for today's warriors. Photo by Michael E. Dukes  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFrom left, Army Master Sgt. Tracy Evans, Staff Sgt. Tim Squires, Spc. Larry Murdock and Sgt. Steven Cobb are saluted by event officials and spectators as honored guests at the National Powwow in Washington on Aug. 12. Photo by Michael E. Dukes  
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