Honoring our nations: Native American history

  • Published
  • By L. Cunningham
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

Over 108,000 Native Americans have served our country in the Armed Forces, from the Civil War through the Vietnam War, and still today. In history, they could often be found serving as scouts, interpreters and guides, because their unique skills and languages greatly impacted military operations and communications. From Choctaw code talkers in World War I, to the Comanche, Hopi, Kiowa, Seminole, Creek, Cherokee and Navajo code talkers during World War II.  

Annually, November is Native American Indian Heritage month, which is a time to honor those warriors who served this country.

One such warrior, who was born into a band of mission Native Americans, serves in the highest enlisted Air Force rank of chief master sergeant here. He currently serves as the 55th Communications Group superintendent and leads cyber professionals in protecting base communications and computer systems.

“My ancestors were very proud people,” said Chief Master Sgt. Peter Franco, 55th Communications Group superintendent. “They resisted assimilation when Spain colonized the coastal lands of southern California, the area known today as Orange County and San Diego County, around 1775.”

The Acjachemen, who had been in southern California for thousands of years, were eventually baptized, reformed and renamed to instill the new Spanish culture. Subsequently known as the JuaneƱo, Franco’s ancestors continued the resistance by maintaining their own cultural and religious ceremonies. They would still perform sacred dances and healing rituals in their villages and within the compound of Mission San Juan Capistrano. They also continued to speak their native language, Payomkawichum, which is only spoken by few of the remaining band members today.

“There are currently 1,941 blood descendants of the Acjachemen still fighting to keep tribal life, culture and heritage alive,” said Franco.

Franco’s individuality comes from more than just traditional things, like race, age and cultural background.It comes from intangible elements, such as experience, creativity, talent, knowledge, perspective, bias and values. Franco developed these elements growing up in a family with Native American spirit.

“I’ve always said we’re the greatest Air Force in the world because of our Airmen, and it is through the elements I developed, and the inherent differences in our Airmen, that the mission comes alive,” said Franco. “We all bring individual strengths, values, experiences and so much more, which ultimately manifests into a better, stronger, dynamic force.”

When asked about his own significant achievements, Franco said he was just doing his job to the best of his ability. Since he joined the Air Force in 1997, he has been stationed at multiple bases throughout the U.S. and Europe, earned three university degrees, attended military professional education academies and won many awards, such as Tuskegee Airman of the Year and three Lance P. Sijon awards.

“I try to just give my best by being engaged, caring and relevant, in hopes that my contributions help my Airmen become better than they were yesterday,” said Franco. “If we synergize the diversity of our people, the mission will succeed through innovation, ingenuity and evolution.”