Sen. John Thune
May is National Military Appreciation Month, a time to recognize, honor, and thank all of the men and women in uniform who selflessly serve our state and nation. When I reflect on their service and sacrifice, it’s hard not to think about my dad and personal hero, Harold, and all of the men and women who today fill the ranks at Ellsworth Air Force Base and the South Dakota National Guard. As any South Dakotan can attest, these soldiers and airmen are the best of the best, and we’re glad they call South Dakota home.
My dad is a humble guy, so it would take some bragging from those around him before you’d ever know he was a war hero – a guy who, as a young man, didn’t think twice before piloting one of the many Hellcats that buzzed off the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid during World War II. He embodies everything that it means to be part of the Greatest Generation: humility, quiet service, patriotism, and dedication to the cause of freedom.
I can tell you, there are few things more humbling than welcoming members of the Greatest Generation who are in Washington to visit the war memorials that have been created in their honor. I recently met a group of South Dakota veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War, or Vietnam, and it was an awe-inspiring experience to see firsthand how meaningful a quick visit to the National Mall can be for them.
Today’s military men and women share a lot of the same qualities as those of previous generations, and I’ve been fortunate to get to know many of them through Ellsworth and the South Dakota National Guard.
Ellsworth has dominated the headlines lately, and the base deserves the praise. It’s been an amazing 14-year journey from first being placed on the Department of Defense’s chopping block to today being chosen as the future home to the first B-21 bombers to enter the fleet. It was a team effort, but we worked hard to convince the Pentagon that Ellsworth was a vital national security asset and that moving the existing B-1 fleet would actually cost money and strategic value.
Between then and now, Ellsworth’s resume has only grown stronger. In 2007, the Air Force Financial Services Center opened at the base. In 2011, it welcomed the 89th Attack Squadron and command and control stations for MQ-9 Reapers. And in 2015, after nearly a decade of work, Ellsworth found itself firmly planted in the expanded Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) – the largest training air space in the continental United States.
Utilizing the PRTC and additional altitude waivers, the base just completed its ninth large force exercise, its first since solidifying its place in the future of the nation’s new bomber fleet. It featured nearly a dozen different kinds of aircraft, including B-1s, F-16s, and, for the first time, F-35s, and it hosted personnel from around the country. Ellsworth continues to shine, but it’s the men and women at the base – and their families and the community – who truly deserve the credit.
National Police Week also falls in May, and I recently welcomed a group of officers from Sioux Falls to my office in Washington, D.C., who were in town for some of the week’s events. Like the men and women of the military, police officers consider danger to be just another part of the job and are always willing to confront it when necessary. I interact with law enforcement officers on nearly a daily basis, whether I’m in South Dakota or in Washington. I have a deep respect for everything they do in order to carry out their 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year mission.
There are many ways to serve one’s community, state, and nation, but I’m particularly humbled by the fact that South Dakota is home to so many men and women who are constantly willing to go above and beyond and put themselves ahead of others. On behalf of a grateful state, whether you serve in the military, in law enforcement, or as a first responder, thank you.