Mending the broken road

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kristal Stacey
  • 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron

I first enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2003 with the intent on expanding my education and to travel the world.

I joined to do four years and I wanted to come home as soon as I finished basic training- but my deployment changed me. I finally saw the big picture of what the Air Force had to offer and the opportunities I was missing out on.

I am the Section Chief of Specialty Imaging of the Diagnostic Imaging Department at the Keesler Medical Center’s 81st Medical Group.

After 17 years, I have definitely done my share of travelling through military moves, deployment and personal travel. The Air Force has taught me a great deal about taking advantage of educational opportunities and mentoring. I mastered training in the nuclear medicine career field and obtained certifications in radiology, mammography, nuclear medicine and specialized in cardiac imaging for nuclear medicine.


I have also earned degrees through the Community College of the Air Force in diagnostic imaging and nuclear medicine, earned a Bachelor’s Degree in health science and a Master’s of Science degree with a concentration in public health, with honors.

I have never had a problem discussing my Mohawk heritage and advocating for greater recognition, but the conversation took a different turn last November. I was invited to take part in an educational video broadcasted by Kessler, in which I addressed the concerns regarding the lack of options for religious preference which only added to the importance of offering inclusion and diversity of choice.

So many of us are wearing the military uniform and it’s time that they recognize us as Native Americans. To be recognized as an individual and member of their nation, and not just as an American Indian or Alaskan Native.

When we get deployed, a lot of our military members don’t have the option to pick their religious preference when they are injured. Native Americans just have to choose “others,” which is a big deal as our traditional ceremonies require more than just having the chapel come and perform a Catholic or Christian ceremony. There are certain rituals that must be performed. Identification tags that reflect an Airman’s religion is an important aspect of inclusion.

Indeed, while the military identification serves many purposes, such as rapidly indicating the blood type of an injured service member, the most important one is that it offers a way to identify a fallen combatant. It then allows for the proper burial to be executed in accordance.

The lack of statistics regarding Native Americans contributions in wars has been an issue that comes up during every Native American Month throughout Veteran’s week in November.

The American National Indian Council on Aging Native Americans has had the highest involvement per-capita of any population to serve in the US Army for over 200 years. Yet, detailed information on Native Americans service members remains almost impossible to find.

If we are identified on our dog tag, it offers another way to include us in the database.

Editors note: Stacey was selected by the 81st Training commander as a keynote speaker for diversity discussions where she led a social media broadcast, educating 11,000 base populace. Her persistence for change led to an Air Force and Department of Defense policy change addressing the inequality of over 31,000 service member’s tribes and nations on their dog tags and service records, benchmarking inclusion for Native American cultural rights across all military branches.