Native America

Topics: Native Americans in the United States, United States Army, United States Pages: 15 (4623 words) Published: December 14, 2014
 I don’t actually write books or this column on Native American issues for a living. At my regular job, I cover defense and homeland security topics for an industry magazine. These two diverse beats intersected recently when I participated on a blogger’s roundtable phone call with Army aviation officials. Among the recent developments the senior leaders of the branch wanted to pass on was the bestowing of the official nickname for the extended range/multi-purpose unmanned aerial vehicle. For those who aren’t familiar with military hardware, the ERMP UAV is a new version of one of the Army’s workhorse unpiloted aircraft that fly over battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, and use high-tech sensors to peer down on the battlefield. It also comes equipped with missiles that can take out the bad guys, if needed. In keeping with tradition, Army aviation officials wanted to scrap the unwieldy ERMP acronym and give the UAV a Native American name. And so they announced that it would be known as the “Gray Eagle.” First, I put on my military reporter’s hat and asked a question about the new version of the Hellfire missile being deployed with the UAV. Then I couldn’t resist putting on the Native American issues hat and asking about where they had come up with Gray Eagle. Traditionally, the service has given their helicopters names based on tribes or famous chiefs. I was not familiar with Chief Gray Eagle, I said. For the two officers responding, it was clearly a question out of left field. They didn’t have a clear answer. Here’s a slightly edited transcript. Army officer: “I too was not real familiar with Gray Eagle — Gray Eagle specifically, but after a little bit of research, Gray Eagle, a great Indian chief, has a long history in fact with the Army, operating with the Army, and Special Operations. So it actually is very fitting to name our formerly known as Extended Range Multi-Purpose "Gray Eagle." Me: “So he was a historic figure?”

Officer: “No, no, he was an actual figure, Indian chief.” Me: Do you know what nation he was from or anything? Sorry. I know these are odd questions, but…” Officer: “I don't have the background and/or the specifics... 2nd officer: “We aren't historians here, but I can tell you that over the history of Native America, there have been several chiefs named Gray Eagle, the most recent of which — I think [he] is referring to -- is more modern-day. He was a major in the special forces… Me: “Okay…

2nd officer: “There's also other Gray Eagles, chiefs — that of the Lakota Sioux tribe. One that fought in the Battle of Bull Run with Sitting Bull. So there are numerous figures that could be referred to, because it's really a common term for several great Native American chiefs.” Well, like the officer said, they aren’t historians. These are guys charged with the difficult job of acquiring highly complex weapon systems for the Army. The colonel I’m sure realized immediately that he misspoke when he placed Chief Sitting Bull at one of the two major land battles of the Civil War referred to as “Bull Run.” The special operation forces major named Gray Eagle they mentioned is also a mystery. I found one dubious website that made reference to a Lakota special operations officer named Gray Eagle. But there are no complete names or dates for this account. Perhaps there is a reader out there who can enlighten us. That exchange put me in mind of the only time I have ever heard about any opposition to the Army naming their helicopters and aircraft after Native American individuals or nations. That came in 2003 when I attended a panel discussion in Lincoln about Whiteclay, Neb. Speaking there was the late American Indian Movement leader Vernon Bellecourt. For those who have never heard an AIM leader address a mostly white audience, I can tell you that every speech begins with a long preamble about all the injustices perpetrated on Indians by the white man. Among Bellecourt’s litany was a complaint that the Army had named...
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