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A Grateful Nation

By Sen. John Thune

May 20, 2022

“Land of the free because of the brave.” This simple sentiment recognizes that many of the blessings we enjoy as a grateful nation are a result of the selfless men and women who have answered the call to serve their nation.

I first came to know the military through my dad Harold, a fighter pilot who flew Hellcats off the deck of the USS Intrepid during World War II. From him I learned the patriotism and selflessness and humility that characterized the Greatest Generation – and that continue to characterize our military members today. Throughout the years, I have been privileged to meet many South Dakota veterans and current servicemembers, including the airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base and members of the South Dakota Army and Air National Guard. It is the honor of my life to represent them in Congress.

South Dakota has a proud legacy of military service, but, as many know, our state’s role in our nation’s security has not always been guaranteed. The fight to save Ellsworth from closure in 2005 is well-told, but it has forever shaped my approach to making sure Ellsworth’s future is never again questioned. From the day the base was saved to today, my focus has always been on ensuring that it gets everything it needs to retain its strength. This includes working to ensure that the B-1s remain a responsive and lethal component of Global Strike Command while simultaneously preparing for the future B-21 mission so the base can continue to serve as one of our nation’s most essential military assets for decades to come.

Last year, I worked to ensure that the National Defense Authorization Act contained not only full funding for B-21 aircraft development, but full funding for the first of many equipment and support facilities that will be needed for the stealth and nuclear mission at Ellsworth, including a facility to restore the plane’s low-observable coating, a wash rack and maintenance hangar, mission operations and training facilities, and an expanded flight simulator space. Now, I am advocating for the timely construction of the weapons generation facility and radio frequency facility that will be essential to ensuring the 28th Bomb Wing is able to fully conduct the nuclear and stealth B-21 mission. Ellsworth is well on its way to becoming “Raider Country,” and there’s still more new construction on the way.

The work doesn’t stop there. I am fighting to ensure that the Air Force is able to invest in unmanned systems to complement the mission of the B-21. I also intend to introduce a measure for this year’s National Defense Authorization Act to establish a pilot program that would develop “dynamic airspace” – a concept of efficient air traffic scheduling and airspace boundaries that evolve as exercises or other flights progress. Dynamic airspace would better enable the Pentagon to meet training requirements for 5th generation aircraft like the B-21, which need larger volumes of airspace to accommodate longer engagement distances, and it will build off the successful expansion of the Powder River Training Complex that includes a significant portion of West River.

The foundation of Ellsworth’s success isn’t modern equipment and facilities, it’s the men and women in uniform who support the mission. That’s why I’m also focused on making sure Ellsworth has the resources it needs to take care of our military families, particularly as more of them move into the area ahead of the B-21 mission. This includes making sure that ample housing is available and that the Douglas School District is able to provide sufficient classroom space for current and arriving students. These are critical quality-of-life issues for our military families – matters that heavily influence whether airmen want to stay in the service or leave for the private sector, where many of their skills are in high demand. We know that South Dakota is an incredible place to live, work, and raise a family, and it should be no different for those serving at Ellsworth.

I am more grateful than I can say for all the men and women in South Dakota and across our great nation who have answered our country’s call. It is because of them that we live in peace and safety, and the freedom that we enjoy is secured by their sacrifice.

May God bless all our military men and women and keep them safe as they stand on watch for us.