“I recently had the great privilege of speaking at the Chief Standing Bear Annual Breakfast in Omaha. This important annual event celebrates the life of the great Ponca chief, Chief Standing Bear, one of America’s first civil rights heroes. I am very thankful to the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, its director Judi gaiashkibos, and the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska for carrying on the critical work of telling Chief Standing Bear’s story.

Following the event, I was invited to participate in a ceremony honoring another Native American hero. Lieutenant Colonel Tom Brewer is a decorated military leader and a Lakota Sioux tribal member who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was presented a special gift in his honor by Norma Blacksmith, an Oglala Lakota and Cheyenne tribal member and a celebrated teacher and quilt maker in her own right. You can view the presentation of the quilt in the video.

Colonel Brewer is an outstanding individual. A remarkably skilled soldier and fearless leader, he’s been involved in nearly all aspects of battlefield operations. He’s planned missions, run M1 tanks, and flown Cobra gunships. He received the Purple Heart for his courageous actions on the “Bone Yard” battlefield in Afghanistan in 2003. His actions are detailed in this account by Indian Country Today Media Network.

Brewer also led disaster response efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since then, he’s been back to Afghanistan. In December 2011, he suffered serious injuries when a rocket-propelled grenade launched by Taliban insurgents struck his vehicle. As you can see from the video, Lt. Colonel Brewer is still recovering from those injuries.

His spirit to finish the fight is unyielding. He told me he’s ready to go back to Afghanistan as soon as he is physically able, and he told Indian Country: “I look at it more as just getting the job done. As much as I enjoy time home with the family, I also know that this mission is important because the clock is ticking. If we don’t get Afghanistan on its feet and moving forward and ready to take over operations, we may very well have spent all the blood and sweat and money on this war for naught.”

Lieutenant Colonel Brewer is not only a model military leader. He’s a leader in his community, and a role model to us all. It has been an honor for me to get to know him. Tom Brewer is another great example of the many individuals across our state whose contributions make Nebraska “the good life.”

-Congressman Jeff Fortenberry