Proud military service has run in George Red Elk's family dating back to his grandfather in World War I.
Serving two years in Vietnam with tours in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield, Red Elk is always hesitant to accept any honor bestowed upon him. He only believes he was doing what he was trained to do and gives credit to those that came before him, including his father, a Comanche code talker in World War II.
"I was on a harvest up in Nebraska when I got my draft notice to go to Vietnam," Red Elk said. "Deep down, I always knew that Dad instilled in me what it means to have that warrior spirit. It sort of took over when I went over there."
The warrior spirit is what propelled Red Elk through his service in the Army and eventually the Oklahoma Army National Guard. During his tour in Vietnam, he was injured and spent a substantial amount of time in a military hospital. While Red Elk was laid up in the hospital, his commander on the tank he operated was killed. He later returned to the same tank and was going to re-enlist but didn't. The person that was set to replace him was also killed before he left. It was a very sobering and sad time for Red Elk.
"I got to know the guy that got killed and (he) ended up dying in my arms," Red Elk said. "We became close. When I went back, I didn't get close to anyone out there. I couldn't."
When Red Elk came back home from Vietnam, he again thought about staying in the military. His wife grew up as an Army brat and knew the way their lives would be. She forbid him from re-enlisting, and he settled into a quiet civilian life. The recipient of a silver star and purple heart, Red Elk was pulled back into the military by a golfing friend.
"He talked me into joining the National Guard saying we'd have a blast," Red Elk said. "It wouldn't be that much work and it'd be a great experience. Then we got activated."
When trouble erupted in Kuwait, Red Elk's unit was activated along with many others. By that point, he had an additional 10 years in the service. But he still wasn't promoted. He became frustrated seeing younger guys being promoted over him.