Five-day walk through northwest New Mexico calls attention to female veterans

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Emma Etsitty steadily held a large U.S. flag as she walked along the northbound lane of N.M. Highway 371 during the "Honoring Our Women Veterans" walk on Friday.

Etsitty, a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1979 to 1982, said she started the walk on Tuesday in Thoreau because she wanted to honor her sisters-in-arms.

"As women veterans, we're not recognized. Most of the times on Veterans Day, it's about the males. ... We're kind of left behind," she said.

Etsitty, who is the vice commander for the Mariano Lake Veterans Committee, explained that women are continuing to expand their roles in the military and are shattering the misconception that they only serve as clerical workers or nurses.

As she looked at the people gathered on Friday, she said, "I like it."

The walk began on Tuesday in Thoreau with stops in the Crownpoint, Whiterock and Tiis Tsoh Sikaad chapters. It ends today in Upper Fruitland.

On Friday, about 30 participants walked along the northbound lane of N.M. Highway 371 near Navajo Agricultural Products Industry. The group was scheduled to end that segment of the walk at the Northern Edge Navajo Casino.

From time to time, vehicles stopped to drop off individuals to join the journey.

Kae Yazzie, one of the organizers, said the five-day walk honors all women veterans, regardless of race, military branch or years of service.

"It's all female veterans who we're honoring on this walk," she said.

Yazzie, an Army veteran who served from 2000 to 2006, added that the walk was also organized to focus on the issue of women veterans not receiving the same accolades, support or services as their male counterparts.

Organizers hope the walk increases that awareness, as well as encourages female veterans to become involve in local veterans groups to work toward that change.

On Friday, four volunteers from the Beclabito Chapter ALERT, or authorized local emergency response team, waited for walkers to arrive at the break area they set up near the highway.

George Kelly Jr., the ALERT vice president, said they organized a similar station at mile maker 91 and distributed water, Gatorade, watermelon and granola bars.

"They need to be recognized. They're as important as the men," Kelly said about women veterans.

Raymond H. Curley donated water and Gatorade on Friday and was waiting at the stop to join the walk.

Curley enlisted in the Marines in 1968 after graduating from Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, Utah, and served in the Vietnam War.

As Curley waited to the group to arrive, he talked about his daughter, Dawn Hunt, who served during Desert Storm and is now in the Nevada National Guard in Las Vegas.

He participated in previous honor walks, but this time, he was recognizing his daughter, as well as a niece who is in the Army in Arizona.

"I don't count, I just walk. You don't pay attention, you just walk," Curley said about the distance.

Today, the walk will start at 7 a.m. at the intersection of N.M. Highway 371 and Navajo Route 36. It will proceed west on Navajo Route 36 to the Walter Collins Center in Upper Fruitland.

The walk is timed to coincide with a 9 a.m. motorcycle run from Baca-Prewitt Chapter and a parade at 10 a.m. The parade will start at Old Navajo Route 36 in Upper Fruitland and end at the Walter Collins Center.

A closing ceremony for the walk will take place inside the center at 11 a.m. It will feature guest speakers and entertainment from singer Talibah Begay and the comedy group, Native Boys.

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