JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Waqaa, wiinga Nunakuata, Tangeqcuguluk! Hello, I am Nunakuata, Tangeqcuguluk!
My marrluk (grandmother) would always call for me when she needed me, “Tangeqcuguluk!” The translation in English means little boy. I am named after her baby boy who passed after childbirth.
“Nunak, or Nunakuata” translates to someone who is nomadic or goes all over the place. Both of my Yupik names fit me well. They ring true to who I am. I was always a little tomboyish and loved to go on adventures, roaming where I pleased until I found something that interested me.
I am a surveillance technician (ST) with the 176th Air Defense Squadron. I am also part of the 3 percent of Native Americans who are enlisted in the Alaska Air National Guard.
In all the jobs I have had, being a ST is by far my favorite. To watch the skies of Alaska and help keep my family safe is a rewarding feeling. During World War II, my ancestors helped defend the very same land we watch over. Now, I am blessed to say I do as well.
I am going on 12 years in the military, and I am so proud to be wearing this uniform. On my uniform, I bear the name Queenie, a name belonging to my great grandfather. His name was Quinarpak, but when the missionaries were assigning names, they changed it to Queenie. The legacy of my great grandfather’s Yupik name passes on.
I grew up on the Yukon River in the small native communities of Saint Mary’s and Mountain Village. These Western Alaska communities are remote with limited opportunities for jobs and education, which led me to join the military at 17 years old.
I had little experience outside of my village, and I had never even been out of Alaska. All I knew were people who looked and acted like me. My entire viewpoint on people, life and expectations were changed forever after enlisting.
The standards set by my chain of command were invaluable for me to grow. That’s one of the beautiful things of the military is the chain of command. They mentored me to be a more diverse, innovative and capable person. My leadership has high standards for their people, and I appreciate that.
I am surrounded by highly capable individuals who constantly improve themselves. I see a chain of command that has laid a good foundation of mutual respect, and it just makes me want to work that much harder for them. They encouraged me to embrace my Native history and to share my stories. I never had that before.
The military allowed me to be a leader, to use my voice for good. The military taught me how to advocate and disagree if it’s the right thing to fight for. Sometimes, in my culture, to say “No” or to disagree is regarded as being disrespectful.
By nature, we are a quiet culture, always allowing others to speak first. Once I found my voice to speak against inequality, I realized that I was not alone. I write about the many things that bothered me growing up, such as housing resources, running water and many common amenities that are afforded to more developed areas.
I listened to Alaska Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe’s speech on growing the military force in the state to reflect the population it serves, and I believe in that. I support the development of individuals to contribute to the bigger picture.
As much as I enjoyed the remoteness of where I grew up, I have come to realize with the changing of the times we also need to help grow our rural economies. The military is one way to promote that growth.
Also, I hope it changes the trajectory of how Natives are viewed and the challenges they may face. The military mentality helped me overcome and cope with some of these challenges among my own family members.
The National Guard has been a huge transformation for my family and our quality of life. My sons get to watch their mother go to work every day in uniform. They also get to enjoy their Native foods from their grandparents.
I hope to wear this uniform as long as I can. I will always advocate for my culture and for the military. They are the duality of me. I am unique because of my uniform. I am also unique because I am a Native in a uniform. Both have become an integral part of my identity. Both equally serve one another.