Conflicts in the Middle East

Since the Gulf War (1990–91), the United States has been engaged in an ongoing series of conflicts, primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq. American Indian men and women have served bravely in these and other missions in distant places such as Fallujah, Kandahar, Mosul, Raqqa, and Tora Bora.

Sergeants Sam Stitt and Chuck Boers pose in front of their Native Warriors artwork on the wall in An Najaf, Iraq

Courtesy of Chuck Boers

Sergeants Sam Stitt (Choctaw) and Chuck Boers (Lipan Apache), who discovered a shared Native heritage while serving in the army, pose next to their artwork in An Najaf, Iraq, in 2004.

The cost of war has been high. Some 30 American Indians and Alaska Natives were killed and 188 wounded in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan, 2001–14). In Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003–10), 43 American Indians died while 344 were wounded.

A group of soldiers from the United States Army’s 120th Engineer Combat Battalion posing with the Cherokee Nation flag

Photo by Chuck Boers

Soldiers from the United States Army’s 120th Engineer Combat Battalion, posing with the Cherokee Nation flag. The photo was taken during the powwow events held at Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq, September 17 and 18, 2004.

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 120th Engineer Combat Battalion had the highest proportion of American Indians—20 percent—of any military unit in the combat zone. Part of the Oklahoma National Guard and successor to the famous Thunderbirds of World War II, the 120th was ordered into service in 2003. The unit was awarded a meritorious commendation for its participation in the War on Terror and for its role in fighting in Afghanistan.

Despite the danger, Native Americans continue to serve in the armed forces. As of 2017, more than 24,000 of the 1.2 million active-duty servicemen and women are American Indians.

A metal drum with wooden supports with three drumsticks laying on top.

Drum, titled Desert Thunder, and drumsticks used in a two-day powwow at Al Taqaddum Air Base near Fallujah, Iraq, 2004. Made by 120th Engineer Combat Battalion. Metal, wood, hide, twine, nylon cord, adhesive tape, plastic, nails; 45 × 61 × 62 cm. (drum); length 49, 49, and 60 cm. (drumsticks). Gift of Sergeant Debra K. Mooney and 120th Engineer Combat Battalion. NMAI 26/5148