FORT BENNING, Ga. — Staff Sgt. Nacona Oxendine’s military family extends through generations. His father served in the Marine Corps and the Army before retiring from military service in 1996. His father’s father served in the military along with many of his uncles.
Oxendine said his family members are proud of their military service throughout the years, but they also proud for another reason — they are members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
The Lumbee Tribe is the largest tribe in North Carolina, the largest east of the Mississippi River and the ninth largest in the nation. The Lumbee take their name from the Lumbee River, which winds its way through Robeson County, North Carolina.
Oxendine recalled growing up in the close-knit community where he volunteered with the Lumbee Warriors, or veterans, of his tribe who performed military honor guards for members of their tribe who passed away.
“I remember doing this all the time with my dad as a kid,” said Oxendine, who serves in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 507th Infantry Regiment, as a jumpmaster instructor. “That helped pushed me towards the military, being a part of that, and I always heard my grandfather say that everyone should serve their country.”
Following in his family’s footsteps, he joined the Army in 2005 as an infantryman with his mother’s words repeatedly in his mind — to always be proud of who you are.
“Pride was something that was definitely instilled in me at an early age from my mother– to be proud of who you are and where you come from and to never let anyone downplay that,” Oxendine said.
Those words have not only been a testament of who he is as a member of the Lumbee Tribe, but also how he conducts himself in his military career.
“I’m proud of what I do, I enjoy my job, and I’ve learned to be very resilient,” Oxendine said. “And that pride in who I am carries over into my job.”
Oxendine’s supervisor, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ross, who serves as the branch chief of the U.S. Army Jumpmaster School, has been working with him for the last two and a half years. Ross has witnessed first-hand how Oxendine’s pride in who he is and in his heritage has flowed over into his work as an instructor.
“The first thing I observed from Staff Sgt. Oxendine when he first got here was his relentless and tireless work ethic. I saw it day in and day out, and I could see where he gets that drive from because he is a very cultural and family-oriented person. He wants to not only set the example but be the example and the face of this job,” Ross said. “He was always the guy to put in the late hours and early mornings, and he was always ambitious to learn the job and his duties and responsibilities that were required of him. He wanted to excel, and not only was he determined to excel himself, but he also had a desire to make the people around him better.”
Ross said it’s been an eye-opening experience to work with someone who he can also learn from.
“It’s a great benefit and a great learning tool for me to see a different cultural aspect,” Ross said. “This is my first time personally working hand-in-hand with someone of Native American descent, and it does open your eyes on things to see how people view things differently regarding their beliefs, values and things they hold near and dear to their heart, and overall it just makes you a better person.”
Oxendine continues to put his best foot forward while also honoring his families’ lineage. A father of two young girls, he also ensures his daughters never forget their heritage. He travels with them every year back to Lumbee, North Carolina, for their tribe’s annual homecoming, where they celebrate their heritage and honor their ancestors.