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Photo Information

Al Asad, Al Anbar, Iraq - Civil Affairs SNCOIC, Master Sgt. Steve Jakes, 46 of Tohlaki, N.M., Infantrymen Lance Cpl. Cheston E. Bailon,20 of Shiprock, N.M, Sgt. Leighton Redhouse, 25 of Upper Fruitland, N.M., Sgt. Jonathon D. Mc Kenzie, 27 of Shiprock, N.M., are all members of the Navajo Nation who are proudly serving thier country in Iraq with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Shane Keller

Navajo: continuing asset to Corps

29 Jun 2005 | Cpl. Ken Melton

In many past wars, Native Americans have made great contributions to keeping America safe. The Navajo Code talkers are among the most memorable. Now four members of the Navajo Nation from Arizona and New Mexico are writing a new chapter of war heroes for their people and the Marine Corps by fighting in the war on terrorism and remembering their ancestors. “I’m proud to be fighting for my country in the best fighting force we have to offer,” said Sgt. Leighton Redhouse, a squad leader with Weapons Platoon, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. “I’m also proud to fight along side my brethren from the same tribe.” Master Sgt. Steve Jakes, a 5th Civil Affairs Group staff non-commissioned officer; Sgt. Jonathan D. Mckenzie, a platoon guide for Company L; Lance Cpl. Cheston E. Bailon, an infantryman with 1st platoon, Company L and Redhouse all grew up on the Navajo Indian Reservation, one of the largest reservations in the United States. “We all grew up in Shiprock, N.M. Bailon and I attended the same high school and our rival was Redhouse’s high school,” said McKenzie, a 1996 Shiprock High School graduate. “Even though we have rival schools, we are all Marines and we are here to do a job.” The reasons they each joined the Corps varies. For Redhouse it was because of his brother. “My brother was in the Marines and I wanted to become one also,” said Redhouse, a 1997 Kirtland Central High School graduate. “I wanted to have that change in my life and be set apart from the rest of the crowd.” These Marines know that they have a lot to live up to. The Navaho’s service in the Marine Corps is well known. “There is a lot of military tradition among the Navajos that is directly related to the Marine Corps,” the 46-year old Jakes said. “Some of us are related to the Navajo Code talkers, whom we hold in the highest regard.” For them, their forbears are role models and heroes. “We strive to emulate them,” the 20-year-old Bailon said. “They are not only heroes among the (the people), but heroes of the Marine Corps.” While determined to be like their heroes, they too have left family and homes behind as did the code talkers. Away from the reservation, these Marines make the best of their situation and rely heavily on each other. “I have a brother in Company L assigned to Camp Hit and when we were separated, I felt a drop in my morale,” said Bailon, a member of the Redhouse (Kinlichinii) and Water Flows Around (Toohagliinee) clans. “I felt better when I knew these guys would be around to look after me, they’re like another set of brothers.” This separation from their families has helped to build a new respect for them and has helped bring these warriors from the Navajo Nation together. “This is the fourth time I have been on deployment and it really teaches you the appreciation of family and home,” said Redhouse, a member of the Honey Comb People (Tsenjikini) and Sleep Rock People (Tsenahaabilnii) clans. “Some of the geographical features of Iraq remind me of the ‘Rez’ (nickname for Indian Reservation) and it’s good to be able to talk to someone who knows about it.” All these Marines know their contribution to the ongoing operation is greatly appreciated and they are glad to be a part of it. “I have seen the poverty-like conditions these people live in and nobody deserves to live like this. That’s why we are here,” said McKenzie, a member of the Folded Arms (Biitaanii) and Red Cheek (Kiinxichinii) clans. “I know if I can help these people over here, I can help (the people) on the ‘Rez’.” As the Marine Corps continues to progress in technology in warfare, it has also progressed in equal opportunity. “Since I first joined the Marine Corps in 1977, I have not seen this many Natives in the field,” said Jakes, a member of the Bitter Water (Todichini) and Coyote Pass (Mai Desghichni) clans. “This is one of the most dangerous, but significant operation I have ever been on. I feel more, not only for these troops, but for all of them when they go out on missions.” Jakes, who is nearing retirement, reflected for a moment on the passing of his extensive time in and on his views of Native Americans in the Marine Corps. “I’m usually the only representative for Native Americans in units wherever I went,” said the 1992 Chabot College graduate. “I’ve seen how the Marine Corps’ views on ethnic diversity and sensitivity have changed and noticed how it affected the new flux of Native Americans coming into the ranks in positive ways. “I have always been there to offer guidance and direction to these young warriors who will give the (the people) more heroes to look up to,” said the 1977 Chinle High School graduate from Chinle, Ariz. As their redeployment date approaches, these proud Navajo Marines look forward to the future and what it will bring. “I look forward to reflecting on my accomplishments with my family,” McKenzie said. “I know that my actions have set a good example for my children.” Bailon plans to continue being a role model when he returns to the reservation. “I want to help my community by bringing more businesses into it,” said Bailon. “I will continue to earn my bachelor’s degree in Business and Marketing at Arizona State University to help realize this vision.” Although they have their own plans for the future, they all share a singular vision that, until now, has been out of reach. “I hope that we all get a chance to participate in the Navajo Nation Fair parade and be held in the same respects as the Navajo Code talkers,” Redhouse said smiling. “As heroes, not only to the (the people), but to our Marine Corps and to our country.”