The Army’s helicopters have a number of names you recognize immediately: Apache, Black Hawk, Kiowa, Lakota, Comanche. They are also known as the names of Native American tribes. This is not a coincidence.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, this was originally due to Army Regulation 70-28, which has since been rescinded. Today, while the regulation is gone, the tradition remains, and there is a procedure to pick a new name. The Bureau of Indian Affairs keeps a list of names for the Army to use. When the Army gets a new helicopter (or fixed-wing aircraft), the commanding officer of the Army Material Command (the folks who buy the gear) comes up with a list of five names.
Now, they can’t just be any names. These names must promote confidence in the abilities of the helicopter or plane, they cannot sacrifice dignity, and they must promote an aggressive spirit. Those names then have to be run by the United States Patent Office, of all places. There’s a lot more bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo to go through, but eventually a name is picked.
Then comes something unique – the helicopter or aircraft is then part of a ceremony attended by Native American leaders, who bestow tribal blessings. You might be surprised, given that the Army and the Native Americans were on opposite side of the Indian Wars – and those wars went on for 148 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Don’t be. The fact is, despite the 148 years of hostilities, Native Americans also served with the United States military. Eli Parker, the only Native American to reach general’s rank, was a personal aide to General Ulysses S. Grant. Most impressively, 25 Native Americans have received the Medal of Honor for heroism.
In other words, the Army’s helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft bear names that reflect fierce and courageous warriors who also have fought well as part of the United States Army. That is a legacy worth remembering and honoring with some of the Army’s most prominent systems.