We’re obligated to take care of our own

We're obligated to take care of our own by the Plain Talk Last January, Gov. Mike Rounds took time to meet with media representatives in Vermillion.

He held a lengthy, detailed discussion covering a variety of topics he hoped the state Legislature would address in the upcoming 2005 session.

And he made a special request.

�Would you take time out somewhere along the line,� he asked newspaper publishers and editors at the Al Neuharth Center, �just to send the message to please not forget the families that are back here that are still without that person home?�

That �person,� at the time, was a member of one of several units of South Dakota�s Army National Guard stationed either at a military base stateside, or overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Last January, four South Dakota units were still in Iraq. The 153rd Engineers, with units in Huron, DeSmet, Madison, Parkston, Platte, Wagner and Winner, provided security and searched out IEDs or improvised explosive devices to keep the people in Iraq safe.

We�re glad to report that Company A and Company C of the 153rd returned safely to South Dakota in February.

The 2nd battalion of the 147th Field Artillery also helped with security. Its units hail from Watertown, Sisseton, Webster, Aberdeen, Redfield and Miller.

It was in Iraq for over a year.

The 216th Fire Fighting unit of Sturgis helped fight fires in Iraq. Its members were kept busy putting out flames from mortar attacks.

Iraq was home to 10 mechanics from the 238th Aviation Unit of Rapid City. Their main job is to keep aircraft in the air.

Seventy soldiers from 109th Engineer Group of Rapid City were stationed in Afghanistan. The 109th�s mission was to help rebuild the war-torn country, and take on the dangerous task of removing land mines.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the South Dakota Army National Guard has mobilized 2,178 soldiers from 26 different units for Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the peak of deployments, South Dakota had more than 1,500 soldiers in Iraq at one time. Currently only 22 soldiers remain on duty in Iraq and 75 in Afghanistan.

This week, South Dakota received word that National Guard soldiers from Yankton�s C �Charlie� Battery and other soldiers from throughout the 147th Field Artillery�s 1st Battalion areas were alerted for possible mobilization.

Consider what has been experienced by a significant number of South Dakotans. The cruel uncertainty of war. The hardships suffered by not only the soldiers, but the parents, spouses and children they left behind. The period of readjustment Guardsmen and their family members have encountered or will experience upon being reunited.

Somehow, simply saying �thank you� just doesn�t seem adequate.

Earlier this year, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson attended the funeral of a fallen Marine from his state. After driving by the family�s �very modest home,� he realized how difficult it was to continue after losing a son or daughter, he said.

�We have a responsibility, a moral duty, to take care of our own,� Richardson said. �When there is a death of a service member, families and loved ones lose a lot more. They leave behind families that are not only despondent, but in many cases, without a breadwinner.�

Two months ago, New Mexico became the first state to begin paying the life insurance premiums of its National Guard troops, a legislative salute that has spurred similar measures in 35 other capitals.

While a second state has yet to pass the measure, it has gained broad support from both lawmakers and military personnel. Despite Richardson�s enthusiasm, New Mexico remains the only state so far to enact a life insurance benefit for its Guard.

A measure less costly than New Mexico�s failed in Pierre this year. We hope that state lawmakers, led by Gov. Rounds, will work toward establishing this benefit for our state Guard members in 2006.

A $100,000 policy may not be much, but it�s the least we can do.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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