A story published in The Times on Sept. 6, "Wampanoag Tribe's health director called to duty in Kuwait," described the deployment of Ron MacLaren, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) health director and a captain in the Naval Reserves.
Captain MacLaren, a resident of Oak Bluffs, left for Kuwait on Nov. 1. Prior to his departure, the Tribe held a sendoff party that included a "smudge" ceremony.
Lt. Penny Cockerell, public affairs officer with the Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group forwarded the following photo and story to The Times Monday. The story was written by LCDR Aaron Greene, Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group Public Affairs
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - Troops serving overseas in the Global War on Terrorism are accustomed to spiritual rituals, such as prayer, to keep them safe. For one mobilized Navy Reserve Captain, his sendoff included the Native American ritual of "smudging" - and in turn, he performed the ritual for his team's surroundings in Kuwait.
As a civilian, Ron MacLaren is the Health Director for the federally recognized Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Mr. MacLaren has worked with Wampanoag tribal leaders in the development and administration of tribal health-care policy since 2006.
Mr. MacLaren is now serving as Commodore of the newly-formed Navy Cargo Handling and Port Group THREE, headquartered at Ft. Dix, New Jersey forward deployed to Kuwait.
In August, Mr. MacLaren was mobilized to active-duty in to serve as Commander, Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group's Forward Headquarters in Kuwait. NAVELSG Headquarters oversees the administrative needs of about 700 Navy Reservists currently deployed in Iraq and Kuwait.
On his final day with the Wampanoag tribe, prior to leaving for Navy duties, Mr. MacLaren was given a warrior's send-off by Wampanoag leaders, which included a gift from the tribe to conduct a ceremony known as "smudging."
Smudging is a Native American ritual aimed at purifying or cleansing a person or a space by use of the smoke from certain dried herbs. In a smudging, the smoke of the burning herb, such as sage, juniper, or sweetgrass, is pushed onto the person or about a room using one's hands or, very often, a feather.
Wampanoag tribal members also presented him with a necklace of beads containing a tiny glass jug holding the clay from the nearby Aquinnah cliffs, as well as a deer skin pouch holding the same clay, which is considered sacred to the tribe.
These gifts were given to keep him safe - to remind him from where he came and to where he would be returning. He was also given some dried sage and the feather of a red-tailed hawk.
As the Wampanoag leaders wished Mr. MacLaren farewell, they asked him to smudge his new surroundings when he arrived in Kuwait so the air would be cleansed of any bad spirits. The Captain complied by smudging his headquarters office spaces, as well as those of a subordinate command, U.S. Navy Customs.
"It is important for me to show respect for the tribe and to honor them for the tribute they have bestowed on me." Mr. MacLaren said after the smudging.
The ceremony was a welcome pause in the action for a headquarters team settling into a forward-based Navy routine. This smudging coincided with Native American Indian Heritage Month, which has been observed by the United States government in November since 2001.