“Mr. President, May is National Military Appreciation Month, a chance for us to honor the service of those who have kept our nation free for two hundred and forty-three years.
“For me, when I reflect on our military men and women, there are always two things in the forefront of my mind.
“My dad, Harold Thune, and the men and women of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and the South Dakota National Guard.
“My father was a fighter pilot who flew Hellcats off the U.S.S. Intrepid in the Pacific theater during World War II.
“I came to know the Greatest Generation through my dad – their humility, their quiet service, their deep patriotism, their dedication to the cause of freedom.
“And I’ve come to know the men and women of today’s military through Ellsworth and South Dakota’s National Guard.
“Ellsworth has been on my mind in particular this week, as right now the Air Force is conducting a large force exercise involving our B-1 bombers, B-2s, B-52s, F-16s, C-17, KC-135, J-STAR and AWACS, and, for the first time, F-35s.
“My acquaintance with Ellsworth began during my time as a member of the House of Representatives, but I really got to know the base and what it meant to the Rapid City area 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 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
“That summer of 2005 was a long one as we mobilized to protect the base.
“I don’t think I missed a BRAC hearing in D.C. that summer.
“It didn’t matter whether Ellsworth was on the agenda – I just wanted to be there in case the chance to advocate for Ellsworth arose.
“Thanks to the efforts of a lot of dedicated people, we were victorious.
“We demonstrated to the commission that Ellsworth was a vital national security asset and that moving the B-1 fleet from Ellsworth would actually cost money.
“We also made the case that the U.S. shouldn’t put all its eggs in one basket – that it shouldn’t consolidate all of its assets in one location.
“By August, we succeeded in having Ellsworth removed from the closure list.
“Since then, the congressional delegation and Ellsworth and community leaders have worked hard to build up the base so that we 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 and its command and control stations for MQ-9 Reapers.
“In 2015 a decade-long mission paid off with the expansion of the training air space for the base.
“The Powder River Training Complex is now the largest training air space in the continental United States.
“And it’s undoubtedly partly thanks to this air space that Ellsworth was just chosen not only as the home for the B-21 training mission, the first bombers to the fleet, but operational squadrons as well.
“Once on the chopping block, Ellsworth is going from strength to strength.
“And South Dakota is deeply proud to host this crucial base.
“Ellsworth’s airmen have played an essential role in the armed conflicts of recent years.
“Ellsworth’s pilots have engaged terrorist targets in the Middle East from Ellsworth itself, using Predator and Reaper remotely piloted aircraft for vital reconnaissance, search and rescue, and strike missions.
“The Thunderbirds of the 34th Bomb Squadron and the Tigers of the 37th Bomb Squadron have flown countless missions, conducting strikes, providing deterrence, and delivering critical close air support.
“During Operation Odyssey Dawn, B-1s from Ellsworth launched from South Dakota, flew halfway around the world to Libya, dropped their bombs, and returned home, all in a single mission.
“This marked the first time in history that B-1s launched combat missions from the United States to strike targets overseas.
“Mr. President, during my time advocating for Ellsworth, I’ve had the chance to learn a lot about aircraft and the incredible capabilities of the U.S. military, especially the capabilities of the United States Air Force.
“But the greatest part of representing Ellsworth has been the chance to meet with and get to know its airmen, from the wing commanders and other base leaders to the airmen who care for the planes.
“Ultimately, no matter what technology we have, the strength of our fighting force comes down to our military men and women.
“And it’s because of the men and women we have that the United States has the strongest fighting force in the world.
“Members of the military are a special breed.
“At an age when many are focused on graduation ceremonies or summer vacations, they take a different path.
“A path that challenges them mentally and physically.
“That pushes them to their limits, and then asks them to go further.
“That asks them to forget their own needs and focus only on what they can do for others.
“That asks them to forgo comfort for sacrifice – up to and including the sacrifice of their lives.
“At 18, at 21, these warriors pledge to lay down their lives for the rest of us.
“And they make that pledge again every day of their service, every morning when they wake up and head to work, whether that’s the repair bays at Ellsworth or a battlefield half a world away.
“I am profoundly grateful for the honor of representing some of the men and women of the United States military here in the Senate.
“We owe our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen a debt that we can never repay.
“But as Military Appreciation Month continues and Armed Forces Day approaches, we can take the time to remember.
“To remember that we go about our lives in peace and freedom every day because the members of the United States military are standing on watch for us.
“May God bless the members of the United States military, and may God continue to bless America.”