Boe Harris takes another ‘mission’ to military bases
By Ronald MacArthur
For Boe Harris of Seaford, her month-long trip to northern Europe to perform as part of a Native American dance troupe is a homecoming of sort - and much more.
Harris calls herself a former Army brat who spent most of her youth on overseas military bases. She attended elementary school in Japan and graduated from high school on a military base in Germany.
This is the second fall she has spent a month overseas performing at military bases as part of the White Eagle Dancers under a Department of Defense cultural and entertainment program called Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE), which also coordinates United Services Organization (USO) entertainment.
“It’s an honor and privilege for me to share my culture and it’s also a mission trip,” she said. “We want to reinforce that the people back in the United States are supporting the military and their families.”
On this past trip, Harris said that the dance troupe performed on bases (sometimes two shows a day) in Denmark, Norway, Holland, Iceland, Belgium, Germany and England between Nov. 1 and Dec. 5.
“We had performances scheduled on every day but two days during that time period,” she said. “It’s really not a luxury trip - it’s a job for us. We spent a lot of time packing and unpacking going from base to base. At the most, we had about two hours to do some sight-seeing,” she said.
She said that all costs are covered except for meals (although many are provided at the bases) as part of the AFE program.
Harris said that bringing entertainment to the troops at military bases is an ongoing process. “Coming in right behind us were the Harlem Globetrotters and the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. It’s nonstop entertainment. It’s important to help relieve the stress and keep up the morale of the troops and the families left behind,” she said. “It’s also been mandated that all branches of the service honor different cultures.”
November was Native Americans Month and Harris said that many bases had programs set up to coincide with their performance. They were joined by other Native American dancers at some bases. The dance troupe performed at schools for children as well as at community centers, Boys & Girls clubs and auditoriums for all personnel on the bases.
At every base, Harris presented a copy of a letter from the Seaford Mayor and Council. The letter was presented to her before she left by Seaford Mayor Dan Short and was written to the troops to tell them that they are remembered and respected. The letter was read before or after most performances.
“One commander even read the letter to all of his troops to remind them that they are not forgotten,” she said.
Harris, who is outgoing in the first place, said that meeting and talking with people on the bases was special to her. Most of the hundreds of photos she took of her latest trip were of the families and children she came in contact with. “I gravitate to the children mostly,” she said. “Most of them had at least one parent who was deployed.”
Harris said that she was surprised about the morale of the troops overseas. She said that most troops felt that the feeling back home was that there was not much support for what was taking place in Iraq and action that was still taking place Afghanistan was forgotten. “That was talked about a lot - that was the main theme - the lack of appreciation fueled by the media coverage we get here in the states.
“But when you watch coverage on the Armed Forces Network, you get an entirely different story,” she added. “Regardless of how you feel about the war, you have to respect the commitment those young people have made.”
One of the highlights of the trip was spending Thanksgiving on a base in Germany. The dance troupe performed during the day which was capped off by a Thanksgiving dinner for base personnel. In addition, there were large, carved chocolate soldiers. “Everything was decorated magnificently. They really took pride in that feast and presenting it to these families,” she said.
The troupe also performed at three North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bases.
Harris, who is married to Jeff Harris and has a daughter Cassie, moved to this area from California where she was active in Native American cultural events and issues. She got back into Native American activities through dancing eight years ago. She has danced in numerous powwows, at schools all over the region and before numerous groups. She is a Chippewa Indian (on her father mother’s side) from the Turtle Mountain Band in North Carolina where she is enrolled as a tribal member. She is also an associate member of the Nanticoke tribe.
It was at a dance in Asheville, N.C. that she learned about the AFE program. “I met a dancer who told me about dancing all over the world,” Harris said. “ I told her that if she ever needed a traditional northern dancer, to give me a call.”
Two years later in 2002 she did get a call to join the White Eagle Dancers. But timing was not on her side. “I got the call from her father in October for the trip in November and I didn’t even have a passport at the time so it didn’t work out. He told me to go ahead and get a passport. I leave things to God and they called me again,” she said.
Boe Harris looks forward to her month-long mission each year to provide entertainment and education about Native American culture to overseas troops and their families.
“But it doesn’t stop when I get home, because I can share the stories here over and over again,” she said. “It honors my culture and ancestors and helps to keep the culture alive.”
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