Pfc. Chelsea Draper, Forward Support Command, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, prepares to drive her military vehicle to its guard point protecting Camp Garry Owen in Maysan, Iraq. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Plowman
For many years the United States Army has been a melting pot of soldiers from different cultures, races and religions, all joining the Army for reasons as different as their diverse backgrounds.
For Pfc. Chelsea Draper, Forward Support Command, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, joining the military followed in the footsteps of her grandfather.
A member of the Navajo tribe located in Chinle, Ariz., Teddy Draper Sr. served in the U.S. Marine Corp over 60 years ago, utilizing the Navajo language, or Diné Ke’Ji, to transmit coded messages as a code talker.
Code talkers were Native Americans who served in the Marines from World War I to Vietnam. Used to transmit coded messages over radio and telephone, the languages they spoke were unwritten and undecipherable by the enemy.
Draper grew up very close to her grandfather, hearing of his service as a code talker during World War II. Draper Sr., retired as a sergeant major. He received a Purple Heart, the Congressional Gold Medal as a Code Talker and his own personal Congressional Silver Medal, among numerous other honors.
Pfc. Chelsea Draper with her grandfather, Teddy Draper Sr., in Chinle, Ariz. Photo courtesy of Pfc. Chelsea Draper
Draper, a Chinle, Ariz., native said her grandfather is the reason she even thought about joining the Army.
“Even at a young age, I could see the pride my grandfather took in having served his country, and I also understood the sacrifices he made,” Draper said.
Draper has traveled a long way from the beautiful red-rocked mesas of Arizona to the golden sands of Iraq. Growing up on the reservation, she was raised within the native culture of her grandfather.
“I speak and write in our native Navajo language in addition to English, following in a tradition our clan has kept alive as part of their heritage, along with their religion, beliefs, legends and values,” Draper said.
When she was considering carrying on the tradition of military service, Draper’s grandfather didn’t coax her at all. But when she told him she had decided to join, she could see how proud he was of her.
“He gave me his full support, calling me ‘my Soldier,’” she said.
“I miss her, and I worry about her,” Draper Sr. said. “But America needs its defenders, and I support Chelsea.”
From the peaceful wind chimes of Chinle, Ariz., to the swirling heat of Maysan, Iraq, the connection between grandfather and granddaughter remains a strong and vital force in Draper’s life.
By Spc. Jerry Ellis
1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg. 3rd AAB, 4th Inf. Div.
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