News from the Cherokee Nation, OK
Copyright © 2001 CNO
"By supporting the American way of life, I am preserving the Indian way of life." --Sergeant First Class Leonard Gouge, Muscogee (Creek)
TAHLEQUAH, OK - When you speak to Leonard Gouge, one word comes to mind -- honor. Gouge, a Cherokee Nation employee and enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, is one of the many Cherokee Nation employees and American Indians across the nation that have been called into the service of defending our country.
Sergeant First Class Leonard Gouge, Muscogee (Creek) Nation
On Tuesday, September 11, Gouge, a child welfare specialist for the Cherokee Nation, was in court defending an Indian family. He vividly recalls calling his office and hearing the tragic news that two hijacked airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Centers and one hijacked airplane had hit the Pentagon. Gouge, a drill sergeant in the Army Reserves with the rank of Sergeant First Class (SFC), immediately called his reserve office and was told that his unit had been placed on standby. However, Gouge didn't want to wait and volunteered for immediate duty. The next day, he was called up for a "prep briefing". Gouge expects he will be needed to train the new troops that are volunteering across the state.
Once active, SFC Gouge will train two cycles of new recruits and will ship out with his second cycle to wherever ground troops are needed. When asked how he feels about the possibility of war, Gouge states that he "hates to see people die, but feels proud that we are standing up for what we believe."
Prior to beginning his reserve duties 14 years ago, Gouge spent four years in active duty as a Border Guard on the Czechoslovakia/Germany border. He openly states that his decision to join the Army was based on his desire to “prove his manhood.” Once in, Gouge liked what the Army stood for, unity.
"In the Army", says Gouge, “we all fight for the same cause." And a "cause" is something that Leonard Gouge has pursed his entire life. He recalls an incident that shaped his destiny for a life dedicated to promoting and protecting families.
As an eleven-year old boy, Gouge recalls the day his grandmother, Nora Billey, was kicked out of her home by a landlord that had portioned off Indian land. Although the Bureau of Indian Affairs was working to ensure that Gouge’s grandmother could stay in her home, the necessary paperwork had been delayed. The BIA sent a letter to Mrs. Billey informing her that until the proper documentation was filed, she would need to vacate her home. The landlord then proceeded to dump all of her and her children's possessions into the middle of a dirt road. Gouge remembers his grandmother reading the letter from the BIA and asking how someone, with a one-page letter, could destroy a home and displace a family. "At that point I knew I had to work where I could be the one making those decisions." Realizing he would need legal training, Gouge subsequently received his paralegal degree from Oklahoma Junior College through the Montgomery GI Bill.
Gouge has used his education to protect Indian children and families. Starting out with Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Gouge found himself involved in a month long stint as a volunteer with the Indian Child Welfare program and realized he had found what he refers to as his 'calling'.
"When I opened a file and saw the pictures of those children, I realized I was dealing with the future of the Indian population", Gouge said.
Gouge views Indian women as the backbone of Indian families. His greatest reward is hearing a mother thank the Cherokee Nation for speaking up for her family. "It's not about money—it’s about watching a family go home together."
And Leonard Gouge believes that, as an American Indian, he has a higher calling to protect the land on which he lives so that he can preserve his culture and traditions. Gouge recalls a feeling of isolation when he entered the Army 18 years ago. "There wasn't another brown face in the group. It was a different world--a totally different culture." These feelings have spurred Gouge to reach out the American Indian recruits in an attempt to help them better acclimate to their new environment. He tells of a young Comanche who was unusually homesick during boot camp. When a phone call home didn't help, Gouge snuck the young soldier a bowl of beans and fry bread. When the young man tried to thank SFC Gouge, he was simply told, "One Native American helping another--pass it on."
Gouge claims that being in the reserves requires dual proficiency in his professional and military life. This dual proficiency enables him to better address concerns children may have when they see the evidence of terrorism and impending war. Gouge believes our children get a picture of reality every time they watch the planes crash into the World Trade Centers. "Their view of war is movies that have a hero who later stars in another movie or a video game where they are killed, but come back to play another game. But reality in war is that, sometimes, nobody comes back."
The possibility of "not coming back" is certainly something Gouge has considered. However, it simply comes down to one thing for SFC Leonard Gouge, Indian Child Welfare Specialist, father and husband: honor.
"Being in the Reserves is a decision I made to serve my country. By supporting the American way of life, I am preserving the Indian way of life."
Related contact information:
Mike Miller, Cherokee Nation
Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma