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Proud Navajo Sailor Follows Her People’s Path

By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Elesia K. Patten, Carrier Strike Group 11

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AT SEA ABOARD USS NIMITZ, Nov. 27, 2017 — When Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Denise Alamo introduces herself to other people from the Dine or Navajo tribes in their native language, the introduction translates to: "Hello, my name is Denise. I'm Towering House Clan, born for Tangle Clan, my maternal clan is Salt People, and my paternal clan is Coyote Cross Path."

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Denise Alamo poses for a photograph on the fantail of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, Nov. 22, 2017. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus L. Stanley
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Denise Alamo poses for a photograph on the fantail of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, Nov. 22, 2017. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus L. Stanley
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Denise Alamo poses for a photograph on the fantail of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, Nov. 22, 2017. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus L. Stanley Native American Sailor on Nimitz
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Denise Alamo poses for a photograph on the fantail of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, Nov. 22, 2017. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus L. Stanley

"In Dine culture, you must know what your four clans are because they make who you are," Alamo said. "For instance, when I introduce myself to another Dine, I would say my clans in the following order: my mother's clan, my father's clan, my maternal grandfather's clan, and paternal grandfather's clan.

A proud Navajo woman, Alamo also is a proud U.S. Navy sailor, assigned to Destroyer Squadron 9 of Carrier Strike Group 11 as an operations specialist. She's serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz on a six-month deployment to the Western Pacific. Since 1994, the Navy has reserved November to celebrate and honor Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

Throughout her 18-year career, Alamo said, she has crossed paths with several other sailors who belong to her tribe. Military service is fast becoming a tradition in her family; her brother is serving in the Marine Corps and her grandfather was a Navy Seabee. Alamo said his service motivated her to join the Navy.

"[My grandfather] always talked about traveling and seeing different parts of the world," she explained. "I also wanted to travel. Being a Native American sailor holds much integrity and pride back on the reservation."

Early Life

Alamo grew up on the Dine Nation Reservation, an area near Sweetwater, Arizona. Her family owned two houses; one was near the main road in Sweetwater, and the other was more remotely snuggled in the Carrizo Mountains. During the school year, she said, they lived in the house on the main road. Come summer, the family moved to the isolation of the mountain house, where they herded livestock and raised crops.

"Our nearest neighbor was about a mile away," Alamo said. "That house had no electricity or running water. We had a farm that we maintained during harvest season, and we planted fruits and vegetables such as corn, apricots, grapes, strawberries, watermelon, cabbage, tomatoes and avocados."

Alamo's Navy life and her life on the reservation share some similarities. While deployed, she trades her life on land for a life in a more secluded environment. Just as up in the mountains, the ocean distances her from grocery stores, movie theaters and other home comforts. The many customs and traditions that are so heavily ingrained in the Navy also mirror Alamo's way of life on the reservation.

Her grandparents enjoyed attending ceremonies and traditional dances, so during her childhood Alamo attended many dances, she said. And just as her grandparents ensured the traditions of her people were passed on to her, she added, she proudly passes on Dine tradition to her children.

Proud of Her Heritage

"I'm proud to be Dine, and that I know my language, culture and tradition," Alamo said. "Dine people are also called the 'Holy People'. We have many taboos that we are told to abide by. However, that tradition is dying with the younger generation. I tend to pass on the taboos of our tribe on to my kids along with the folk tales and many stories of Coyote the Trickster. I will also make sure that they know their clans."

Alamo said she draws inspiration and strength from her people, and that she employs them to inspire her throughout her Navy career. A saying in her tribe translates to "In beauty I walk," she added.

"To me this means, 'No matter what obstacles are thrown at you, always strive to better yourself professionally and personally,’" she said.