By Staff Sgt. Valerie Halbert, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 04, 2020
Tech. Sgt. Kristin Ray, 31st Security Forces Squadron unit deployment manager, poses for a photo at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Nov. 13, 2020. Ray recently completed a Native American history class which led her to ask her mother about more of her own personal history. Ray confirmed she is a sixth-generation direct descendent from Chief Black Kettle of the of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe and also a direct descendent of Chief Dull Knife from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Valerie Halbert)
Native Americans have served honorably in the U.S. military for the past 200 years including World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War. In fact, during those wars roughly 98,000 Native Americans served and more continue to serve to this day.
One such service member is Tech. Sgt. Kristin Ray, 31st Security Forces Squadron unit deployment manager, who has been at Aviano Air Base for almost two years.
Originally from Busby, Montana, Ray grew up on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation and descends from both the Northern and Southern Cheyenne tribes. Ray said her Indian name is Ho'etseoo'e or Lightning Woman, and comes from one of her ancestors.
Ray explained her large extended family and gatherings were a big part of her life on the reservation.
“We are very close-knit,” said Ray. “Every get-together, every meal, we always had fry bread my grandma would make. It was one of those staples in our family.”
With the help of her mother to dig into her ancestry, Ray confirmed she is a sixth-generation direct descendent of Chief Black Kettle of the of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe and also a direct descendent of Chief Dull Knife from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.
“Chief Black Kettle was a peace-keeping chief,” said Ray. “He actually had a white flag flying above his peaceful village.”
Black Kettle was a prominent leader and often remembered as a peacemaker who accepted several treaties with the U.S. government. Unfortunately, during the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, that was not enough. His village was attacked by U.S. volunteer soldiers resulting in the deaths of hundreds.
“The Sand Creek Massacre was the first massacre he was in which took place in the Colorado territory,” said Ray. “ When they attacked he was able to escape and carry his wounded wife away.”
Almost four years later to the day, Black Kettle and his fellow Cheyenne people were in present-day Oklahoma when they were attacked by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry Regiment, in what we know now as the Battle of Washita River. While trying to cross the Washita River, Black Kettle and his wife were shot in the back and died.
“After the massacre, our people went to help the [Lakota] Sioux in Custer’s Last Stand or the Battle of Little Bighorn,” said Ray.
The Battle of Little Bighorn was fought on June 25, 1876, near Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory and marked the most decisive Native American victory in the American-Indian Wars.
“It’s something to look up to,” said Ray. “It really opened my eyes and made me interested in finding out more about myself. I was always proud of my culture but after learning more about it I'm even more proud of where I come from, especially the Cheyenne tribe.”
Ray spoke about living a sheltered life while on the reservation and how that pushed her to join the military once she turned 18.
“Being from Montana and living on the reservation, I only saw that for my entire life,” said Ray. “I didn't want to be stuck there, I wanted to get out and see the world.”
As luck would have it, her first duty station ended up being Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, so she didn’t get very far at first.
Fast forward 17 years and Ray has now been stationed in Maryland and Germany before arriving in Italy, and also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. She has been married for eight years to a fellow Security Forces member and they have two children named Gunnar, whose Indian name is He'heeno or Black Bird, and Connal, whose Indian name is Ho'nehe or Wolf.
“I’ve done a lot since I’ve been in,” said Ray. “ I think [my ancestors] would be proud of where I am today. Natives have survived a lot of atrocities and we’re still here today, probably not as strong as we used to be, but we’re still here.”