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NEWS | Dec. 3, 2019

Soldier from To'hajiilee credits passion for military to Navajo roots

By Maj. Linda Gerron 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade

The U.S. Army is made up of many cultures and traditions that make it the diverse fighting force it is today. Part of this unique cultural contribution lies within the Native American population, which has the highest rate of military service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups.

Today, there are over 150 thousand veterans of Native American descent, along with over nine thousand currently serving in the Army.

Capt. Emily Juchniewicz-Armijo, a medical service officer for the 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, Army Reserve Aviation Command, exemplifies her Native American heritage with Navajo traditions and dedication to the Army inspired by generations of family members who have served in the military.

Juchniewicz-Armijo grew up approximately 35 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the remote To'hajiilee Navajo Reservation, formerly known as Cañoncito Indian Reservation. According to Juchniewicz-Armijo, living in an isolated reservation comes with hurdles, mostly related to everyday necessities and work commutes.

"The greatest challenges most of the elders face are the lack of running water or electricity," Juchniewicz-Armijo said. "The challenges everyone in To'hajiilee faces is commuting over an hour to Albuquerque for everyday necessities, such as groceries, hygiene items, and going to work."

However, despite not growing up with the conveniences of a nearby city, Juchniewicz-Armijo said she could always rely on her family to make up for the isolation of the reservation.

"We are very family-based, very family-centered," Juchniewicz-Armijo said. "Our family gatherings always consisted of countless cousins, aunts, and uncles."

Of all her family recollections, however, her fondest memories are of her grandmother being the driving force behind family and community events. According to Juchniewicz-Armijo, she used to host Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations to honor the local veterans.

"My family is very patriotic and proud of being Native American," she said. "Our Memorial Day celebration would often start with a fun run or walk, then a parade, followed by a volleyball tournament, and activities for the kids and adults. My parents and grandparents would also give baskets filled with perishable foods, socks, cold weather items, and games to the elderly - something they continue to do."

For Juchniewicz-Armijo growing up and seeing her family honoring veterans, sparked a desire to join the military, in addition to coming from a line of family members who served in the past and currently serve in other branches.

"We are also a very military orientated family," Juchniewicz-Armijo said. "My mother served in the U.S. Air Force and later in the Army, where she retired after 22 years of service."

Currently, her sister also serves in the Air Force, her brother serves in the Marines, her stepfather retired from the Air Force, and a great-uncle retired from the Navy. Yet, despite having an extensive line of current military members in her family to support her, Juchniewicz-Armijo credits her true inspiration to join the military to the unyielding support her grandparents provided her and her Army career.

"I have a deep admiration for my grandfather," she said. "He is a highly respectable elder on the reservation who served in World War II and committed his service to three different components: the U.S. Army Air Corps, the Air Force, and the Navy."

Juchniewicz-Armijo said that although her grandmother did not serve in the military, she played an imperative role in her initial pursuit of higher education. "Go and finish your degree, don't worry about things back at home; finish what you have to do," Juchniewicz-Armijo said her grandmother would tell her while she was attending New Mexico State University.

Over time, her family's support paid off. In May 2013, she obtained her Bachelor of Science in community health and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, becoming the first officer in her family.

Six years later, Juchniewicz-Armijo's Native American roots and the memory of her grandparents and her family draw her back to the great times of To'hajiilee.

"Whenever I finish my military service, I plan to go back to the reservation and will try to be as much of a positive influence as my grandparents are. I am extremely proud of my heritage and the huge contribution they had in WWII. The Navajo people are resilient and our culture is beautiful and full of meaning."

In the meantime, Juchniewicz-Armijo will continue to lead Soldiers, something she loves to do; and hopes to instill in them the same passion for the military that her family and her traditions instilled in her.