Answering duty’s call Vermillion residents say farewell to activated National Guard unit

Answering duty's call Vermillion residents say farewell to activated National Guard unit Brig. Gen. Michael Gorman, assistant adjutant general for South Dakota, speaks during Saturday's activation ceremony for Company B, 109 Medical Battalion. The event was held in The University of South Dakota's Slagle Hall. (Photo by Heidi Henson, Yankton Press & Dakotan) By Heidi Henson Family, friends and community members gathered at Slagle Hall Saturday to honor the men and women of Company B, 109 Medical Battalion, which has been activated as a part of Operation Noble Eagle/Enduring Freedom. The unit left Feb. 24 for its assignment.

State and local distinguished guests were also on hand to offer prayers and thanks to the soldiers, who are part of the eighth unit to be activated in South Dakota recently.

�Today marks an occasion in our community that brings world events to our door steps,� said Vermillion Mayor Roger Kozak. �It is one thing to watch the evening news, and watch and listen as reports are received from lands on the other side of the globe. And it is quite another when we are sitting here with each other making final preparations to journey to those distant lands.�

While most of the focus was on the men and women who would soon be leaving, many of the speakers addressed the families and employers left behind.

Don Kelpin, deputy chairperson for the South Dakota committee for Employer Support for the Guards and Reserves (ESGR), pointed out that without that strong family and employer support, the National Guard would not be as strong as it is. He said the sacrifices made by the families don�t go unnoticed. Through the work of the ESGR and Family Support program, family members and employers have the support they need to get through toughtimes that may lie ahead, he said.

The National Guard is foremost a community-based organization, said Brig. Gen. Michael Gorman, assistant Adjutant General for South Dakota.

�The local community support all our units have received across the state throughout these mobilizations has truly been outstanding. And Vermillion is no exception,� said Gorman, who will replace the retiring Adjutant General Maj. Gen Philip Killey effective March 1. �While it might be true that the families of South Dakota can do without the National Guard, I want to tell you that the National Guard cannot do without the families. I know these are trying times, as you send your loved ones off to defend the nation, but I want to ensure you ��both the families and deploying soldiers���that one of my main responsibilities is to make sure the family support program is in place and working.�

For Lt. Governor Dennis Daugaard, the emotion of the moment was almost too much to bear as he talked to the soldiers about the pride he has.

�I�ve been trying to think what it would be like if it were my son or my daughter or my parent. I�d feel proud, I�d feel anxious. I know that is how you must feel,� Daugaard struggled to say to the families Saturday. �We must be grateful to the families whose father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter is being called to duty. Spouses and parents and children left behind must do more to cover for the absent family member � even as they are anxious about their safety and needs.�

Daugaard said the family support for each and every soldier activated is important to the morale of the soldier.

�We are proud of the men and women of the South Dakota National Guard. They are the best of best,� Daugaard said.

The men and women assembled here, he noted, are making many sacrifices. Some are students suspending their studies. Many are employees and workers taking leave to respond to the need.

Gorman said that for the employers, it is bad enough to lose an employee, but many of the guard�s men and women tend to be leaders in the workplace, as well. Those employers are forced to sacrifice, too, he said.

�As an employer, you are forced to make the decision to hire someone new or redistribute the work. So I want to thank you for your sacrifices,�

Gorman said.

Daugaard added that guardsmen are also among the best employees in the state.

�When they leave, it�s sometimes not just one person gone, but it seems like one-and-a-half or two people gone. And so those of you who are employers and will have to make do and get long ? thank you. Thank you for giving America your best,� Daugaard said.

James Abbott, president of The University of South Dakota, spoke briefly Saturday about the pride USD has for those serving.

�The last couple of days an old song, which is really a biblical verse, has run through my mind � ?To everything there is a season, a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time for war, a time for peace, a time to sow and a time to reap,�� Abbott said. �As we send you off today � although we are praying for peace�� we�re preparing for what we know we may have to do. We know you will do what you always do � a job well done.�

Those soldiers who are mobilized are proud Americans and proud South Dakotans who are dedicated to freedom, said Gorman.

�We are grateful. We are proud. And we are with you in spirit and in heart,� Daugaard said. �You are South Dakota�s finest and we are grateful for your sacrifice and service.�

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