Celebrated U.S. Army veteran Lt. Col. Tim Gardipee of Missoula was invited by Montana Attorney General Tim Fox to attend an important conference in Washington, D.C. this month dealing with Native American Veterans Affairs.

After touring the White House, Gardipee said the conference was held next door inside the Eisenhower Building.

“The conference was to support contemporary Native American veterans,” said Col. Gardipee. “There were a dozen or so active duty Native veterans in uniform as well as about 200 participants in the conference, some from as far away as Alaska. I believe this was the first conference of its kind at the White House.”

Col. Gardipee said there were several prominent speakers including Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, Interior Secretary David Burnhart, Chris Pilkerton from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Assistant to the President Joe Grogan, Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

Col. Gardipee said as the discussion of various issues began, the group was greeted by a surprise visitor from next door at the White House.

“Halfway through the discussion we got surprised by Vice President Mike Pence,” he said. “Everyone just gasped when Vice President Pence entered the room, and then everyone got very excited. He just electrified the audience. He displayed an extreme knowledge of military history, was especially proud to speak about the Iwo Jima Memorial, and was especially proud to speak about one of the Natives that helped to raise the flag at Iwo Jima, Pima Indian Ira Hayes. He spoke of Ira Hayes very eloquently.”

Col. Gardipee said Vice President Pence spoke to the group about President Trump’s emphasis on veterans’ affairs.

“He spoke about what the Trump Administration had been doing for veterans including a $220 billion for the Veterans Administration,” he said. “He spoke about the VA Mission Act which helps provide veterans with quality health care and how to attack the suicide rate for veterans. He also spoke about the 45th Division, the Native division out of Oklahoma and Sergeant Ernest Childers, Medal of Honor winner and his speech. When he was asked why Native American veterans that had been treated so wrongly by this country and why did they give so much? Sergeant Childers comment was ‘Sir, because the bones of our ancestors are still buried in this land. It is ours forever and we will protect it, no matter who governs it.’”

Col. Gardipee said Vice President Pence then passed out honor coins to the many Native American soldiers and veterans.

“There was a family right next to me of three generations of Native soldiers,” he said. “The grandfather was a Marine, and his son and grandson were both Army soldiers, so he passed out three coins to that family from Oklahoma. He also read a proclamation that November is National Veterans and Military Families Month. November is also Native American Month, as well as Veterans Day on November 11.”

Col. Gardipee closed by saying that Thanksgiving is also a part of the celebration.

“It’s a holiday that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the Natives helping out those Pilgrims and immigrants.”