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The U.S. Army continues to celebrate National Native American Heritage Month

Staff Sgt. ShaTyra Reed is reporting for the U.S. Army at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) for National Native American Heritage Month. “I remember a kid at school asked me, ‘what are you,’ and I replied, ‘I’m a human.’”

This was the first time Sgt. Christina Chee was ever questioned about who or what she was.

Like any curious 7-year-old, she went home and asked her mother the same question. It was then that she knew she was a Native American.

Sgt. Christina Chee, a water treatment specialist assigned to Alpha Company, 46th Aviation Support Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade was born on a Navajo reservation in Monument Valley, Utah. She spent her younger years there before making homes in Fort Hood, Texas and Fort Bragg, N.C.

It wasn’t until Chee’s father received orders to Germany that she really experienced diversity.

“Moving wasn’t a big deal when we first left the reservation because I was still young enough to stay home with my mom,” said Chee. “When my father moved us to Germany, that’s when the world presented challenges.”

One of those challenges was learning English. Chee began to learn English on the reservation from teachers at the Navajo school but had trouble keeping up in her new school.

“It was very challenging because I didn’t know what the teachers were saying,” said Chee. “It was kind of like the Charlie Brown cartoon ‘wah, wah, wah’ when they spoke.”

This caused Chee to be put back a grade. It was her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Atkins, who took the time to teach her English. In fact, she became so good that English became her strongest subject in school.

While Chee spent all her life being a part of the Native American church and participating in traditional ceremonies, it never hit her that she was different. Diversity was just a normal part of life for her.

“My parents were not the type of people who talked about race,” she explained. “We were always accepting of people no matter how they looked or where they were from.”

It was this upbringing that made it easy for Chee to transition to a Soldier. The values that were instilled in Chee as a child were the foundation to the type of Soldier and leader she is today.

Respecting everyone and everything is very important to her because there is still some contribution that you bring to the world no matter how big or small.

“Even the plants have value. The bugs are important because they contribute to life, so we treat them with the same level of respect.”

Taking only what you need and always giving in return is another value that holds true to the way Chee treats the people she serves with.

“It helps a lot with the younger Soldiers when you put yourself on their level and equally contribute to the workload,” said Chee. “They see it and respect you more. I always treat people with respect, and my Soldiers in turn do the same.”

Chee embraces her Family’s history and culture. Today, she remains in touch with her Navajo heritage.

“My mom, she’s very traditional—she made sure we were involved in the ceremonies, the sweat lodges, the powwows, just anything and everything,” said Chee. “I go home as often as I can, and I still participate in the Native American church. I also participate in local ceremonies here.”

Chee said the Native American observance is important because it gives her the chance to educate people about where she comes from.

“I am proud to be a Native American who serves in the military,” said Chee “And I will continue to preserve the history and rich heritage of my community.”

Featured Image Credit: Sgt. Christina Chee, a water treatment specialist assigned to Alpha Company, 46th Aviation Support Battalion, poses for a photo with a traditional gourd and necklace while showcasing symbolic Navajo items during National Native American Heritage Month at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Nov. 8, 2021. Chee is a member of the Navajo Tribe of Monument Valley, Utah and a second-generation Soldier. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. ShaTyra Reed, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade)

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