NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE

OPPORTUNITY TO BREAK THE POVERTY CYCLE
By Rudi Williams

Washington, Nov. 16, 2004 (American Forces Press Service) – A senior Army NCO descended from Ojibway Indians (also known as Chippewa), said he has often wondered why more Native Americans don’t join the military.

Master Sgt. Jon Connor called serving in the armed forces “an excellent opportunity to break the cycle of poverty many American Indians have come to know growing up and living on reservations.”

Although only one-quarter Ojibway and raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Antigo, Wis., Connor said the Army did help him find his niche in life.

He recalled walking into an Army recruiter's office nearly 20 years ago. He was a 26-year-old college graduate, out of work and disappointed with his prospects in the television broadcasting business in Wisconsin.

“I think what I find fascinating about the Army is that no matter what your background is, the limitations of one's success are those placed upon yourself — not the organization. Whether its education, mission-related skills, leadership, the military continuously offers this if you want it.

“I joined because I needed to get on with my life and felt I needed to do something to put my degrees to good use,” said Connor, who holds an associate degree in television production and a bachelor's degree in journalism.

His half-Indian father served in the European theater during World War II, attaining the rank of corporal and earning the Soldiers Medal. “Other family members on my dad's side served too,” he noted. Over the years, Connor found information on tombstones in cemeteries about his descendants serving in the military in the 1800s.

Connor said he supports having November's American Indian Heritage Month as “a great way to foster a better understanding and appreciation.”

“To understand American Indians, one must read about them prior to the European settlers coming to North and South America. Then the real Indian lifestyle can be found. Everything else since is simply a reaction and then later pure survival measures taken until the near genocide of the race by the late 1800s.”

Connor was one of 15 service members of Indian descent at a Sept. 23 White House breakfast honoring the opening of the American Indian Museum on Washington's National Mall.

“It was a real honor to be in the presence of Indian people from throughout the country during my visit to the White House,” he said. Connor called it “an absolute thrill” when President Bush recognized the service members and the estimated 185 attendees “turned and applauded for what seemed eternity. I never was honored by Indian people before, so it was a great, great honor.”

The senior noncommissioned officer has served as an editor, assistant editor and photojournalist stateside and overseas, including a stint as staff writer and photojournalist for the European Stars and Stripes.

Connor recently moved from the Army Chief of Public Affairs Office at the Pentagon, where he was the Army's newspaper program chief, to the Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Public Affairs Office to work in media and community relations.