THACKERVILLE – Chickasaw veterans, National Guard reservists and active-duty military service members gathered June 19 for the fifth annual Chickasaw Veterans Conference at the WinStar Convention Center in Thackerville.
Chickasaw Nation Director of Veterans Affairs Phillip Billy offered comments and introduced the governor of the Chickasaw Nation, Bill Anoatubby.
“The Chickasaw people have long been regarded as great warriors, known for their bravery in defending their Homeland. Chickasaw people continue to carry on the tradition today,” Billy said. “All of our speakers have something in common. They have all served, put on the uniform of the United States military.”
Anoatubby, a veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard, took the lectern to address the group. He led the gathering in a moment of silence to recognize Chickasaw warriors who have passed within the last year.
“These individuals sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today. There is a price for freedom, and their sacrifices are not in vain,” Anoatubby said. “These men and women lived to defend freedom and protect their fellow citizens. We honor their sacrifices and are thankful for all they have done.”
He said it is important to honor our veterans, who are an exceptional group of men and women. He then extended thanks to the veterans and service members in attendance.
“In defending this great country of ours, you’ve continued the Chickasaw tradition of bravery and service. You’ve kept the Chickasaw warrior spirit alive,” Anoatubby said.
Rebecca Owens, who retired as a U.S. Navy master chief petty officer after 30 years of service to her country, spoke about “Why We Serve.” Among the reasons she discussed were family traditions, role models, community, selflessness and protecting what and who we love.
“Many of you may have had family members who served and joining was a continuation of a tradition,” Owens said. “I can certainly relate to that, since I had paternal and maternal family members who were in the military.”
She said there is a feeling of awe when she looks at old photographs of family members in the military. They were her personal super heroes. One family member in particular, her grandmother, had a large impact.
“My female role model was my Chickasaw grandmother. Her name was Oteka Wires. She was in the Army, where she later met my grandfather, and they married,” Owens said.
“Seeing my grandmother in uniform left a lasting imprint on me. These young memories and stories I heard sparked a flame in me and probably did with you as well. They fill us with the sense we can do anything and be anything if we set our sights on it,” Owens said.
She said she believes we all share an inherent purpose to serve and be of service.
“It’s in our blood as Chickasaw people. We know we are stronger when we work together … We joined and served because we possess a warrior spirit,” Owens said.
Justin Underwood led a Q&A panel titled “Chickasaw Warriors in Action, How We Serve.” It consisted of veterans from different backgrounds sharing experiences and how they continue to serve communities and fellow service members. Panelists included Shena Goforth, Ray Orphan, Teresa Reams and Larry Paul.
Other highlights of the event included a musical tribute to each branch of service, panel discussions and a demonstration by the Chickasaw Dance Troupe.
Opening ceremonies included an invocation by the Rev. Gene Anoatubby, posting of colors and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Additional coverage and recordings of the veterans conference are available online at Facebook.com/TheChickasawNation.
About the Chickasaw
The renowned reputation of Chickasaw warriors is centuries old. Ancient Chickasaws were known as a warrior nation that formed societies to fiercely participate in battle. These warrior societies were ingrained into the Chickasaw way of life.
The tradition of the Chickasaw warrior has continued to the present day, where Chickasaw men and women have answered the call to serve our nation in every branch of the military and fought for their country on numerous battlefields throughout the world.
For more information about the Chickasaw Nation Veterans Lodge or other services offered through Chickasaw Nation Veterans Affairs, call 580-272-2550 or visit Chickasaw.net/Veterans.
About the Chickasaw Nation Veterans Lodge
Chickasaw veterans are invited to enjoy fellowship from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday at the Chickasaw Nation Veterans Lodge, 1909 Warrior Way on the Ada South Campus.
The 15,000-square-foot building also serves veterans by providing a convenient location to apply for benefits available through the state and federal government, as well as the Chickasaw Nation.
The south side of the veterans lodge provides space for tribal experts who counsel and assist veterans in finding various programs and benefits available to them.
The north part of the facility is a gathering place for leisure activities so veterans may enjoy the company of other service members. A large activity room is equipped with a pool table, pingpong and card tables, and a hospitality area. A kitchen and dining room support large gatherings and events. A large sunroom is available as well.
The front courtyard showcases the five military flags and seals of the United States armed forces and features the iconic Chickasaw warrior statue.
The lodge was built near the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center so veterans receiving medical attention could be close to health facilities.