Fort Irwin


Meet your Army: Native American Maj. Tom Church serves his country

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Story by SSG Taresha Hill on 12/04/2017
FORT HOOD, TexasThe Army is a melting pot of diversity with people from all walks of life, uniting under one flag, to serve, protect, and defend the United States of America. The Army understands and it embraces such diversity by observing these different cultures throughout the year.

During the month of November, the Army recognizes the contributions of American Indians and Alaska Natives with National Native American Heritage month.

Maj. Tom Church, the operations officer for the, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, is part Chippewa Indian and is proud of his Native American heritage.

"Everyone has a different background, so it's good to learn about others and where they came from," said Church.

Church, a Grand Rapids, Michigan, native, grew up in the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the very first federally recognized band in the US.

"I've always been a part of a federally recognized band and I didn't have to fight for it," said Church.

"But there's been a lot of people who have," he said.

One such person whose influence inspired many great things among the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Tribe) and who Church always looked up to, was his grandfather, Reverend Louis White-Eagle Church.

"My grandfather did a lot for the tribe, he had a big part in being a part of the Indian mission churches," said Church. "He was a role model for the community and helped petition the US government to get the tribe federally recognized."

Church explained that the tribe had to prove it had sustained a government-to-government relationship with the United States in order to be federally recognized and they did so using church records going back to first contact with European descendants.

"It's a very interesting interaction between our government and the Native American population and the laws that govern how we interact," he said.

Another role model in Church's life is his own father, who earned his doctorate in pharmacy. Church said his father always stressed getting a good education, so going to college was never a question in his mind.

"He's a very humble individual that I learned a lot from," added Church about his father.

It was while going to college that Church said he learned more about his heritage and that, "It never really hit me what it truly meant [to be Native American], until I studied history, and really got to learn about the history of my ancestors."

"Over time there's been a lot that has been lost in language and culture. Just to know who people are and where they came from and to have an appreciation for that, is important," he said.

Church said he recently made the conscious decision to change tribes. Leaving the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians to join the Gun Lake Tribe, because he wanted his 8-year-old son, "to have the same opportunity of being a part of a tribe like I was."

He said Gun Lake Tribe considers lineage, unlike the Grand Traverse Band, who demand a tribal member be a certain percentage of Native American.

Church plans to pass on his own knowledge, one day he said, to his son, who he named after his grandfather.

"He has two middle names, Samuel Thomas Waadmigizi Church'. Waadmigizi' means White Eagle' and hopefully he'll have the desire to learn and to teach his heritage to his own kids," he explained.

While Church is not the first to serve his country in the military, he is the first commissioned officer in his immediate family. Being an operations officer for 3rd Cav. Regt. keeps him busy, especially with the regiment's upcoming rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California at the beginning of next year.

"The operations shop is the hub' of the regiment. With our high optempo, we are executing multiple missions every day, and no matter what, being the organized professional that he [Church] is, he always knows what is going on," said Sgt. Maj. Edward Anderson, operations senior enlisted advisor for 3rd Cav. Regt.

Anderson added, "Working with him has been an honor and privilege. He truly personifies what an Army leader should be."

At this point in his career, Church said he has worked in many units who have a history with the Native Americans. He said being a part of the 3rd Cav. Regt., though it has a very storied past with the Native Americans, does not bother him.

He stressed, "We've come a long way. I'm an American- I just have ties to something else."

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