LRS Airman inspired by family’s service to tribe, military

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Miranda Simmons
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Serving has many meanings, and to one Airman assigned to the 28th Logistics Readiness Squadron it is part of who she is and how she was raised.


Staff Sgt. Anika Dexter, an individual protective equipment supervisor, is a Native American from the Navajo tribe who serves in more than one way. Dexter wears the uniform while honoring the traditions of her family and people, the Diné.


“Since I was nine years old, I wanted to join the military,” said Dexter, who heralds from Iyanbito, New Mexico. “Hearing war stories from my nalí [paternal grandfather] and cheii [maternal grandfather] influenced that dream.”


Dexter’s paternal grandfather served in the Vietnam War, and her maternal grandfather served in World War II.  Their stories of serving in the military inspired Dexter to see what was beyond the reservation.


With a chuckle and big smile while reminiscing, she described growing up in a rural community and learning the traditional ways of her people, but also hearing stories of traveling the world from her grandfathers.


“We did not have running water until I was 10 years old,” said Dexter. “Playing for me consisted of herding sheep, running around, playing basketball on a dirt ground, and visiting my grandparents. I wanted to know more about the world and explore like my grandfathers did.”


Her maternal grandfather was her biggest influence on enlisting. Laughing, she recalled seeing him waking up every morning to do pushups, even in his old age. They were not the fitness test type, but rather a combination of different styles like the one-handed pushup. She said his physical strength, combined with the mental strength he demonstrated when he decided to leave the reservation at a young age, serves as a constant reminder that she can be strong, too.


Nearly 1,000 miles from her humbling beginnings, with warmth showing on her face, she says she feels the same comfort here in Rapid City. Having a large Native American population nearby allows her to reach out to tribe elders for that comfort and the familiarity of being back on the reservation with family.


“When I start feeling homesick, I turn to one of my grandmothers here,” Dexter said. “My husband often laughs about how I befriend elderly women in the local area because it makes me feel like I’m back home.” 


Whether meeting elders from other tribes or going before award boards, the word “k’éí” comes to Dexter’s mind and helps her feel at home. K’éí means family and is important in the Navajo culture, said Dexter. For example, when introducing oneself, it is customary to state their maternal and paternal clans. This helps identify familial relations. Looking a little shy, she admits to introducing herself to others in Navajo and English. 


Dexter said she knows she can keep her traditions alive despite being far from home. She practices the Navajo language, finds connections to the local Native American community, and mentors other Navajo Airmen. In everyday life she finds ways to stay true to how her elders raised her.


“I wake up every morning and pray to the east, like my grandfather,” said Dexter. “I pray to give thanks that I am able to serve my country and that I can continue family traditions. My prayers are a solemn reminder of what my grandparents went through to serve and while serving.”


Sitting tall with a proud look on her face, and her long, black hair pulled back into a tight bun similar to a traditional Navajo hairstyle, Dexter shared how her traditions run parallel to what is expected of her and other service members. Although leaving the reservation meant leaving her family, serving in the military was not a difficult transition because of that parallel.


She explained how respecting elders is very important in the Navajo culture and is much like the military rank structure. Hózhó, a Navajo word describing a state of beauty or peace, is a reminder to Dexter that she needs to see the good things in life and that she wants only good things for those she supervises. 


She added that serving is important to her. She was raised to serve her elders and family by helping in any way she can. “As a supervisor the same rings true in how I lead my Airmen because I want the best for them,” she said.


During this time of year, there is a strengthened reminder of what the Air Force means to her. For Veterans Day, the Airman reflects on the service of her grandfathers and others, and spends time with her family. 


“I am proud of my family’s military service,” said Dexter. “I am reminded that my grandfathers fought to defend this country and now I am following in those footsteps.”