Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Native American heritage heals wounded warriors

Native Americans from across the nation taught West-coast wounded warriors how to overcome the lasting torments of war, with time-honored rituals and sacred traditions.

Nearly 30 combat veterans participated in “Operation One Drum,” a four-day workshop designed to alleviate combat stress. The Native American program is the first of its kind to be held on a military installation.

“When a man is faced with a life or death situation, his spirit detaches from him and remains on the battlefield,” said Staff Sgt. James L. Eagleman, former 1st Marine Division tanker and current resident at Wounded Warrior Battalion West, Camp Pendleton. “This experience has helped me and a lot of the guys here reconnect spiritually.”

A central part of the event was the making of tribal drums. Marines and sailors made the symbolic hand drums from buffalo hide and cottonwood. The ceremonial drums carry sacred meaning to many Native American tribes and were a keystone to several indigenous North American cultures.

“We don’t play the drum or beat the drum, we drum a steady beat that brings our heart in tune with the creator,” said Larry “Grizz” Brown, lead ceremonial drummer and descendant of the Cherokee and Creek Native American tribes. It’s not just something you hear, it is something you feel deep within your soul.”

Wounded warriors also connected with Native American veterans through traditional talking circles.

“Just talking can sometimes relieve some of that mental anguish,” said Sgt. Maj. Michael J. Templeton, sergeant major, WWBN-West and two-time Iraqi combat veteran. “This ceremony is a welcome back and reintegration of the warrior in us.”

When Native American warriors first returned from battle, they were called to sit before the elders, said Eagleman, who is also a descendant from the Lakota and Sioux tribes. The elders would apologize to the warriors for having to do the things they had to do and see the things they saw. And then they gave them honor for putting the needs of the tribe above their own survival, added Eagleman. Finally, the elders told them how happy they were for their safe return.

The wounded warriors were immersed in the Native American culture and heritage throughout the week-long workshop that concluded with a three-hour song and dance ceremony, Feb. 25.

“It seemed right to give American veterans the unique insights about war that is inherent to the Native American culture,” said Deborah Bear Barbour, originator of the Hawaii-based, Operation One Drum and descendant of the Native American Oglala and Lakota tribes. “It was time for Native Americans and soldiers to embrace one another in an act of healing.”

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