More than 60 years ago, a group of Native-American Marines, known as the Navajo Code Talkers, used the Navajo language to transmit secret tactical information using radios during World War II, leaving the enemy unable to decipher their messages.
That’s what Lance Cpl. Tyler Slim’s grandfather, or Cheii, Navajo for grandfather, did during his time in the Marine Corps. Hearing Cheii’s account of the Corps from an early age of five years old, made Slim want to follow in his footsteps.
“One story that really sticks out to me that I really take to heart is when he landed on Iwo Jima,” said Slim, a rifleman and radio operator with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Marine Rotational Force – Darwin. “He was part of the first wave. He talked about how quiet it was, and he said he was scared because he wasn’t sure what was going to happen. [The code talkers] were so nervous, they put corn pollen on their tongues so they wouldn’t mess up, and, within a couple of minutes, they took contact.”
After listening to his grandfather’s experiences and realizing he didn’t think he was ready for college, Slim decided to see a Marine recruiter.
“My recruiter was also Navajo,” said Slim, a Tuba City, Ariz., native. “He talked to me and explained how the values and characteristics of the Marine Corps are similar to the Native American’s.”
Once Slim heard how alike the two communities of people were, he knew exactly what job he wanted to do in the Corps.
“You weren’t a warrior until you were a fighter, but it wasn’t all about killing,” Slim said. “It’s about defending your family and land. That’s the Native-American way. That’s why I came into the infantry.”
“You come together to accomplish the mission,” he explained. “You would rather take a bullet than the Marine next to you taking one. It’s like a family.”
Throughout his first year in the Corps, Slim learned a lot from his peers and leaders.
“I’ve gotten more confident,” said Slim. “You bond with people. I look up to my chain of command a lot. They have strong leadership and characteristics I would like to inherit, so when they leave, I can pass those traits on to my future Marines.”
Slim’s leadership thinks just as highly of him.
“He’s a solid Marine,” said 2nd Lt. Matthew Hanks, platoon commander, 3rd Bn., 3rd Marine Regiment, MRF-D. “He’s the kind of guy who catches on quick. He understands the mission and can adapt. Because of his background, his grandfather being a code talker, we put him as our platoon radio operator. Generally, the RO needs to be a little more savvy. They need to understand communication equipment. He’s duel tasked as a rifleman, and he’s also my link to company or higher. He picked up on all that pretty quickly.”
Even though Slim has become part of the Marine Corps community, he hasn’t forgotten about the traditions and ceremonies of his Native-American background.
“Prior to a range over in Twentynine Palms, he did a sun dance for us to bless the platoon,” said Hanks, a Hull, Mass., native. “It brought the morale up. The Marines loved it. We all know Slim has his roots. We cherish that. He’s a great addition to our platoon.”