Senator John ThuneSouth Dakotans have a proud tradition of answering the call to serve America in times of need, and in the conflicts we are fighting today, South Dakotans have served nobly. Our state has a service rate among the highest in the nation for active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members. There are few in South Dakota who do not have family members or friends in uniform.
South Dakota Reserve and National Guard personnel leave behind their families and jobs at home and put themselves in harm’s way. Fortunately, many organizations in South Dakota have gone above and beyond in helping their Reserve and National Guard employees make the transition from being citizens to soldiers and then back again.
This year, the Winner School District was recognized by the Department of Defense with the Freedom Award, which is highest award given to employers for their support of National Guard and Reserve employees. The Winner School District was one of 15 recipients nationwide out of nearly 2,200 nominees. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks received the award in 2006, and South Dakota State University was honored in 2005.
The Winner School District was nominated by 2nd Lieutenant Derris Buus, a fifth grade teacher and athletics coach. The Winner School District stood out among other nominees because of its generosity to service members, including pay supplements during deployments and care packages. The library at Winner Elementary is equipped for videoconferencing, which connects service members with their families. Additionally, Winner school board members go the extra mile in looking after the families of deployed employees.
National Guard and Reserve members or their family members nominate their employers for the award. A national selection board comprised of senior Defense Department officials and business leaders selected the Winner School District for the award.
Receiving this award is an extraordinary reflection on the Winner School District, the Game, Fish, and Parks Department, and South Dakota State University. Our National Guard and Reserve personnel depend on the support and encouragement of their employers back home, and it speaks volumes about the generosity and patriotism of the people of our state that South Dakota employers have been selected in three of the last four years.
There is no doubt that all members of our Armed Forces face significant challenges in defending our freedom around the globe. For many South Dakotans serving overseas, it is comforting to know that their employers back home support them, and that when they come home their employers will be there for them as well. I applaud and thank not only the Winner School District, but also the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks and South Dakota State University and other employers across the state who go above and beyond in supporting our troops