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U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today expressed his sincere gratitude to all of the airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base, members of the South Dakota Army and Air National Guard, and all of the men and women of the United States military for their service and dedication to our country. Thune discussed the importance of ensuring that Ellsworth has the resources it needs to continue serving as one of our nation’s most essential military assets as it prepares for the B-21 mission.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, this Saturday will be Armed Forces Day, a day set aside to honor the members of the United States military.
“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.
“As a member of Congress, I’ve come to know our military through the men and women of the South Dakota Army and Air National Guard, and through the airmen of Ellsworth Air Force Base.
“As I’ve said before, I may be biased, but I am convinced that South Dakota has the most outstanding Guard troops in the nation.
“As usual, they’ve been busy over the past year.
“On Saturday the National Guard welcomed home Guardsmen from a deployment to Djibouti, where our Guard has recently had a heavy rotation to support operations in the Horn of Africa, and honored Guard members who are headed to a deployment in Europe.
“Guard members helped with the response to last week’s severe storms in South Dakota.
“They deployed to the border to reinforce an overstretched Border Patrol.
“They deployed to Guantanamo Bay.
“The 114th Fighter Wing at Joe Foss Field completed NOBLE EAGLE deployments across the country and honed their alert mission.
“Just a few weeks ago, 30 National Guard members traveled to Suriname, where they trained military personnel and provided support to local communities.
“The list goes on.
“South Dakota National Guard members play an essential role in military and humanitarian operations both here at home and abroad.
“And I am tremendously grateful for their service.
“Mr. President, my acquaintance with Ellsworth began during my time in the House of Representatives, but I really got to know the base shortly after I became a senator.
“Just a few months into my first term in the Senate, Ellsworth found itself targeted for closure by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
“And the South Dakota congressional delegation and state and community leaders immediately mobilized to defend the base.
“I’m pretty sure I attended every single BRAC hearing in D.C. that summer – whether Ellsworth was on the agenda or not.
“I just wanted to make sure that I was there in case the chance to advocate for Ellsworth arose.
“Many thought South Dakota might not have the clout to make this stand – that we didn’t wield enough influence.
“We were only given about 12 percent odds of pulling through.
“But we were determined that we weren’t going to lose Ellsworth.
“And in August, we succeeded in having Ellsworth removed from the closure list.
“But we didn’t stop there.
“We got right to work on building up the base so that we would never again find ourselves in the same position.
“In 2007, we saw the Air Force Financial Services Center open at Ellsworth.
“2011 saw the arrival of the 89th Attack Squadron and its command and control stations for MQ-9 Reapers.
“And in 2015 a decade-long effort paid off with the expansion of the training airspace for the base.
“The Powder River Training Complex is now the largest training airspace in the continental United States.
“And it’s undoubtedly partly thanks to this airspace that Ellsworth received the news last June that we had officially been named Main Operating Base 1 for the future B-21 bomber – ‘Home of the Raider.’
“This designation not only means that Ellsworth will be the first base to host the B-21 Raider, but that it will also host the formal training unit and the first operational squadron.
“Once operational, the B-21 Raider will be a critical part of our nation’s long-range strike capabilities and nuclear deterrent well into the future.
“And I am incredibly proud that South Dakota and Ellsworth were chosen to serve as the first base for the B-21s.
“My focus now is on ensuring that Ellsworth gets everything it needs for its new mission, so that it can continue to serve as one of our nation’s most essential military assets for decades to come.
“To that end, I worked to ensure that last year’s National Defense Authorization Act contained not only full funding for B-21 development, but full funding for the first of many equipment and support facilities that will be needed for the B-21 mission at Ellsworth, including a low-observable coating restoration facility, a wash rack and maintenance hangar, an expanded flight simulator facility, and more.
“Ellsworth is well on its way to becoming ‘Raider Country.’
“And there’s more new construction on the way.
“Currently I am working to secure additional funding for the low-observable coating restoration facility, as well as funding for two additional construction projects – a weapons generation facility and a radio frequency facility – that will be needed to ensure Ellsworth is able to fully conduct the nuclear and stealth B-21 mission.
“I am also working to ensure that the Air Force is able to invest in unmanned systems to complement the mission of the B-21.
“And I continue to work to enhance the Powder River Training Complex.
“I intend to introduce a measure for this year’s National Defense Authorization Act to establish a pilot program that would develop ‘dynamic airspace’ – the more efficient scheduling of airspace and airspace boundaries that evolve as exercises or other flights progress.
“I believe dynamic airspace will 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.
“However, dynamic airspace should benefit all users of the National Airspace System, from commercial planes and general aviation to unmanned aircraft systems and space launches.
“I look forward to working with the leaders of the Armed Services and Commerce Committees to advance this proposal.
“I’m also focused on ensuring that Ellsworth has the resources it needs to take care of our military families, particularly as more families move into the area with the impending arrival of the B-21 mission.
“That includes making sure that ample housing is available and that the Douglas School District is able to integrate and support Air Force members’ children and provide sufficient classroom space.
These are critical quality-of-life issues for our military men and women – matters that heavily influence whether they want to stay in the service or leave for the private sector, where many of their skills are in high demand.
“And I am committed to ensuring that our military families are able to thrive at Ellsworth.
“Finally, as always, I continue to focus on making sure that our B-1s have the resources they need.
“We still have a ways to go before our B-1s are fully replaced by the B-21, and I am committed to ensuring that our B-1s remain a responsive and lethal component of Global Strike Command until their mission is over.
“Mr. President, on Armed Forces Day and every day, I am more grateful than I can say for our Ellsworth airmen, our South Dakota Army and Air National Guard, and all the men and women of the United States military.
“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.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”