In the footsteps of warriors: Legendary “Indian Robin Hood” descendants thrive in the Georgia Guard
By Master Sgt. Roger Parsons, 116th Air Control Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 26, 2014
11/26/2014 -- In 1865 a young Native American Revolutionist named Henry Berry Lowry, rose up from the swamps in North Carolina to fight racial injustice being directed against his people who are the modern day Lumbee Indians.
After witnessing his father and brother being forced to dig their own graves and then executed by the Confederate Home Guard, Lowry and a band of his warriors waged a war that lasted until 1872.
Fast-forward nearly 150 years, two Airmen with the Georgia Air National Guard, who are members of the Lumbee Tribe and descendants of the Revolutionist, carry on that fighting spirit.
"Henry Berry Lowry, who led the Lowry War, was my fifth great grandfather on my mother's side," said Staff Sgt. Kelvin Oxendine, an airborne operations technician instructor with the 116th Air Control Wing. "They called my great grandfather the Indian Robin Hood."
"Lowry and his gang helped lay the foundation of justice for my people, giving us hope and the opportunity to pursue a better life and education," said Oxendine. "He gave us a chance to stand up and fight against being neglected and mistreated."
Taking advantage of that opportunity, Oxendine left Robeson County North Carolina to pursue a career in the Air Force in 2007. That path led him to Robins Air Force Base, Georgia and the JSTARS mission.
"I served on active duty for five years as an airborne operations technician on the E-8C Joint STARS and then took advantage of an opportunity to continue doing my job fulltime in the Georgia Air National Guard," said Oxendine. "The Guard allows me to do what I love and stay closer to home where I can be involved in my tribe."
Having deployed seven times in support of the ongoing war against terror and logging more than 2,600 flight hours and 161 combat sorties with JSTARS, the aviator is continuing a family tradition of military service that dates back to the Tuscarora Indian War in 1711.
"I have ancestors that have fought in nearly every war on foreign and American soil," shared Oxendine.
As the Airman followed in the footsteps of Lumbee warriors who had gone before him, he had no idea his path would cross with another Lumbee in the same JSTARS unit.
Nearly 10 years prior in 1998, now Maj. Charles Jacobs, the detachment commander of the 202nd Engineering Installation Squadron, left his family and fellow Lumbee Tribe members to pursue a career in the Air Force as an enlisted member. He went on to gain acceptance in the Reserve Officers Training Cadet program, leading to his commission and an eventual transfer to Robins Air Force Base and the JSTARS program.
"When I got to Robins, JSTARS was a blended active-duty and Guard wing," said Jacobs. "This was my first introduction to the Guard and one of the best things that has happened to me. I was able to get a fulltime position which led me to where I'm at today as a commander."
With more than 2 million people serving in the U.S. military, and only 1.4 percent of those being of Native American heritage, what were the odds these two Airmen from the Lumbee Tribe would be serving together in the same unit just five hours southwest of their home?
The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and the ninth largest in the nation with approximately 55,000 tribal members.
As far as Jacobs and Oxendine knew, they were each the only Lumbee serving in their unit.
That realization changed in 2007 as Jacobs approached Oxendine while walking down the hall at work.
"When I first saw Kelvin in his flight suit with the last name Oxendine on his uniform it caught my attention because Oxendine is a very prominent name in our tribe," said Jacobs. "He looked like someone from my area so I asked him where he was from."
It wasn't until five years later that the Airmen learned not only were they were both Lumbee Indians, but also they were related.
"I'm dedicated to the advancement of my people through cultural enrichment and historical education," shared Oxendine. "While researching my tribe's ancestral background for a book I'm writing, I discovered we are third cousins."
"It's a great feeling to know other Lumbees are here at Robins and I have family to serve with in the Guard."
Passion for their Lumbee heritage and the melding of Native American values with their military careers has been a common thread woven through the lives of these cousins.
Oxendine shared how he applies the Seventh Generation value to his life and career.
"In everything I do, I try to think seven generations ahead and decide whether the decisions I make today will benefit my descendants seven generations into the future," he said.
"I apply the same Native American principle in service to my country. Will my service benefit my country seven generations from now? Will choices I make now continue to benefit the Georgia Air National Guard after I retire? Will I leave a footprint? These are the questions I ask myself to help me make the right choices," shared Oxendine.
Jacobs recounted his time growing up on a farm and the lessons he learned that would help him carve out a successful military career leading to what is now his second command level position in the Air National Guard.
"Many Lumbee kids from my area grew up working on farms," said Jacobs. "When you're young and working on a farm, you learn at a very early age how to work hard."
"I learned early on in my military career that if you work hard, have a good attitude and treat people right, regardless of your background or your culture, you're going to do well."
Like Henry Berry Lowry and thousands of Native Americans who served before them, Jacobs and Oxendine are part of more than 28,000 current Native Americans contributing to our total military force.
And this is no small contribution as Department of Defense reports in 2010, Native Americans make up the highest percentage of service per capita compared to other ethnic groups.
"I am definitely proud to be a part of that percentage," added Oxendine.