Leora Foster, at right, prepares to ride in a limousine with her family to the Burnham Chapter House on Monday at the Vietnam Veterans Park in Farmington.
Leora Foster, at right, prepares to ride in a limousine with her family to the Burnham Chapter House on Monday at the Vietnam Veterans Park in Farmington. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

BURNHAM — Inside the Tiis Tsoh Sikaad Veterans Memorial Complex are flags from each military branch and photographs of veterans who call the chapter home.

Alongside those keepsakes on Monday were large banners filled with words of appreciation for the veterans.

The facility opened in 2012 and is home to the Tiis Tsoh Sikaad Chapter Veterans Group, which operates the building.

Group Commander Leon Spencer said there are at least 60 veterans who live in the chapter and welcomed husband and wife and recent Army veterans, Royce and Leora Foster, to the organization.

"Life gets better and life is good," Spencer said to the couple as they stood in front of the room while fellow veterans rose up to honor them.

This month the Department of Defense is celebrating and observing National Native American Heritage Month by acknowledging the military contributions made by Native Americans, which dates back to the Revolutionary War, and recognizing that Natives have the highest per capita rate of military service of any ethnic group.

Earlier on Monday, Royce, Leora and the Foster family were treated to a limousine ride. During the ride, they were escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders from the Vietnam Veterans Park in Farmington to the veterans memorial complex in Burnham.

"It feels good that we have a lot of support," Leora Foster said.

The couple is making their home in Tiis Tsoh Sikaad Chapter, which they moved to this month, because it will provide their three sons -- Jacob and Jeremiah, both 3, and Joshua, 1 -- the opportunity to learn Diné tradition and culture.

"Family is important to me, especially for my boys. I want them to grow up here," she said.

Foster, 32, enlisted in October 2005 and was honorably discharged in July 2012.

At center, Army veteran Leora Foster pauses for the National Anthem during a welcome home ceremony on Monday at the Burnham Chapter House.
At center, Army veteran Leora Foster pauses for the National Anthem during a welcome home ceremony on Monday at the Burnham Chapter House. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

During her service, she completed one tour of duty in Afghanistan and earned the rank of sergeant.

Royce Foster, 29, is originally from Fort Sumner and enlisted in 200l. He was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant this year.

He completed two tours of duty each in Afghanistan and Iraq and served for five years as an Army Ranger.

"It's a day to honor the guys who are not here, the guys who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country," Royce Foster said about Veterans Day. "I appreciate what they've done for me."

In addition to honoring Royce and Leora Foster and veterans who did not receive a homecoming, the event included Leora Foster's younger sister, Gwendolyn Yu, who was also honorable discharged from the Army.

Yu and her husband, Jerry Yu, who served in the National Guard, were suppose to be part of the event but they could not travel from their Las Vegas, Nev., home.

Their mother, Lucinda Herrera, said she was proud of her daughters' service.

"I have a lot of respect for them," she said.

Although Leora Foster is older than her sister, it was Yu who enlisted first.

"That's the thing she wanted to do after high school," Herrera said about her sister's decision to enroll after graduating from Farmington High School in 2000.

During the ceremony, one presenter remarked that years ago Diné veterans were not treated to homecomings because military service and war were viewed as wishing misfortune to the people.

But as Spencer looked around the room and saw the veterans and their families waiting to be served lunch, he smiled.

"It helps them heal, knowing that people care," Spencer said. "It's time for them to stand down."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. nsmith@daily-times.com Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.