Published July 12, 2012
When American Army phone lines were tapped by the enemy in World War I, Choctaw soldiers stepped up to communicate with Allied Forces, passing along information in their native tongue -- an uncrackable code.
These “code talkers” went on to play a similar role in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The President signed the Code Talker Recognition Act in 2008 to award the Choctaws, Comanches and other Indian soldiers with a Gold Medal
Today, with more than 200 employees, Choctaw Defense continues that tradition, building inventive military tech, from trailers to heaters to laser-guided weapons.
“[It’s a] small company with a lot of big capabilities,” CEO Steven Benefield told FoxNews.com. “We do want to support that warfighter. We're motivated by being able to provide good quality jobs and supporting the mission.”
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the third largest Native American tribe in the United States with more than 200,000 members, owns Choctaw Defense, headquartered in McAlester, Okla. It has contracts with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, as well as major players like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
The company’s slogan is “Built for the Battlefield” and while it began with laser-guided bomb components and military grade-shipping containers, it now has a range of defense tech.
The Camel: Designed to haul water, ammo, and other military equipment whether on or off-road, trailers for Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacements (NTVRs) have been a big seller for the company.
Last year, the U.S. Army awarded Choctaw Defense with a three year $20 million contract to design and manufacture the highly mobile Camel II potable water trailer system to provide troops with 600 gallons of clean, temperature-controlled drinking water.
The system wards off external temperatures that range from a sweltering 125 Fahrenheit to sub-freezing conditions of 50 below.
How to ship weapons: Choctaw Defense produces the Joint Stand-Off Weapon Shipping & Storage Container, which comes with an external data port that allows the guided bomb it contains to be remotely programmed with GPS and an Inertial Navigation System without physically opening the container.
The company also manages to churn out an ammo crate every 55 seconds with a team of twelve.
A super-sized space heater: The company has produced more than 5,000 multi-fueled, super-sized space heaters for troops known as the Improved Army Space Heater (IASH). They’ve been used by U.S. military forces worldwide.
MacGyver machines: More than 20,000 of the Battle Damage Assessment and Repair (BDAR) kits for making repairs on the battlefield to damaged Army vehicles have been deployed, and Choctaw Defense holds a new contract for an upgraded one.
Known as “MacGyver kits” internally, the BDARs were being called “Choctaw kits” by warfighters, tribal members returning from deployments learned. If your vehicle catches a bullet in the radiator, the kit has everything you need from “goop” to duct tape to plug it up, get out of harm’s way and get out of there.
Paveway smart bomb: Choctaw Defense is a key member of the team making the Paveway Smart Bomb, which can be guided by a computer and camera built into its front end. The tail section -- the part produced by the company -- receives commands from the computer and maneuvers the system to the optimal bombing location.
Going forward, Choctaw Defense looks to continue to support the U.S. military, expanding its portfolio by building Chinook helicopter replacement load floors and laser-guided bomb fins.
“We have a hundred year vision in the tribe,” Benefield told FoxNews.com, “going from low socioeconomic standing to the highest. We focus on the children … generation after generation.”
For over 20 years, the company has made giving back to the community a priority by putting more than 75 million in payroll to local workers over the past decade and building facilities in areas with high unemployment.
Owned by the tribe without shareholders, profits are either invested into company expansion or given to the tribe for the benefit of the community, supporting programs like college scholarships.
Choctaw Nation has an impressive history of not only supporting its own community, but supporting others from the Irish during the potato famine to the US military.
One of three Choctaw tribes, Choctaw Nation are the descendants of Choctaw who were farmers in Mississippi and forced to relocate to Oklahoma by the Federal government in 1830. That relocation is infamously known as the “Trail of Tears,” due to the extreme hardship, suffering and loss of life they were forced to endure.
Only sixteen years after enduring that trial and suffering starvation themselves, the Choctaw Nation became aware of the plight of Irish people during the Great Famine. They collected $710, a massive sum in those days, and sent it to support them.
Irish President Mary Robinson visited the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma for the 150th anniversary of this selfless act, and eight Irish nationals walked the Trail of Tears in recognition.
Native Americans only received citizenship in 1924, yet the Choctaws have nonetheless patriotically served in the U.S. military abroad since World War I.
As Benefield explained “We have a strong sense of duty in our culture and a high regard for nation’s military and always have.”
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has travelled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.