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Why I Serve: 'Brat' Follows Family Footsteps

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2004 – "It may sound funny, but a big part of my desire to join was a sense of patriotic duty that I felt and still feel to this day," said Air Force Master Sgt. Layne P. Berryhill.

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Paralegal Air Force Master Sgt. Layne P. Berryhill leaves the U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeal courtroom at Bolling Air Force Base, D.C. Photo courtesy of Steven Salinas

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

The military brat whose mother and father also served in the Air Force calls himself a "junkie" who is "addicted" to the feeling he gets wearing Air Force blue.

A member of the Creek Indian Nation of Oklahoma, Berryhill said he was pulled to the military by the many opportunities it offers and by his personal search for structure, guidance and discipline.

Berryhill, a paralegal in the Air Force Legal Agency at Washington's Bolling Air Force Base, followed his mother's and father's footsteps into the Air Force in May 1983. His father had been an E-4 working in a recruiting office when he was killed in a vehicle accident in August 1962, about a month before Berryhill was born.

His mother was a saxophonist in the Air Force Band at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. She stayed on active duty until she was forced out because she was pregnant with Berryhill's older brother, David, who was born on May 14, 1959. In those days, women were not allowed to stay on active duty when they became pregnant.

Berryhill claims his Creek Indian heritage from his late father. "Sadly, that part of my family has passed, and I have little knowledge of their lives," said Berryhill, who was among a group of American Indian military personnel who attended the White House breakfast in September honoring the opening of the American Indian Museum on the National Mall here. "But I'll continue to find out more about my family as time passes."

Noting that he didn't claim his Indian heritage when he enlisted in the Air Force, Berryhill asked the question, "When can I be considered not a minority serving in the military, but an American serving his country," he said. "If there is a division of people in the military based on race, then how will we ever be a cohesive military?

"My goal is to serve my country as an American," he emphasized. "I have no desire to be considered anything other than that. My Indian heritage, that I share and (will pass) on to my children, should have no bearing on my service. I honor all those who served this country without consideration of their family tree. The rich, the poor, the challenged and the blessed are all equal in my eyes, and I hope that at the end of my career I am equal in theirs."

Berryhill said it's more honorable to recognize someone's contributions as an individual rather than a member of a separate culture. "It's in the service of one's self and family that one truly honors one's ancestry," he said. "I've never felt like I am anything other than an American serving my country, and that is how I would like to be remembered.

"The Indian cultures have worked to earn the respect they deserve and have earned it through action and dedication," he said.

Berryhill call it a "great honor" to have a month set aside to highlight the heritage, culture and contributions of American Indians. "I believe the celebration of a culture shows that people are not willing to accept things as they are, but can change things for the better," he continued.

"The accomplishments of others have allowed me and many like me to serve our country," Berryhill noted. "I hope people recognize (that) the efforts of those who came before us made our lives possible as they are today. I hope everyone shows their respect and in their own way honors the contributions of the American Indian."

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