Sounds of fighter jets roared as hundreds of Air National Guard members and their families sat inside Hangar 40 at Joe Foss Field.
More than 400 Airmen from the 114th Fighter Wing of the South Dakota Air National Guard were deactivated Saturday in Sioux Falls from their 2021 deployments in areas including the Middle East, Europe and the state of Georgia. Some had been gone for six months, others for a year, Lt. Col. Matt Cayser said.
“The South Dakota Air Guard is always answering the call. This ceremony is proof of that, ”said Dusty Johnson, US House Representative for South Dakota.
Johnson was joined by other South Dakota dignitaries including Governor Kristi Noem, US Senator John Thune, and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken. Senior leaders of the South Dakota Air National Guard were also represented by Major General Jeffrey Marlette and Col. Mark Morrell.
The gravity of the day weighed on the hangar. A minute of silence was observed for the victims of the 9/11 attacks and for those who died in the service of the United States during the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
“For two decades, many of you in this room have answered the call with great determination and resilience,” said Thune. “For two decades Americans have been safe because the US military has grown stronger and doing what it always does and is still protecting Americans.”
But the party was also at the rendezvous during the ceremony. The 114th Fighter Wing was recognized for its 75 years of service to the nation.
More recently, the 114th Fighter Wing received the prestigious Spaatz Trophy for the fifth time. The award recognizes combat readiness and the overall performance of a unit.
“Winning the Spaatz Award is unprecedented,” said Thune. “There is no other fighter wing in America that can claim this distinction and recognition.”
The airmen were seated with their families, many holding babies and calming anxious toddlers. Noem took note and spoke of the example each aviator set for his family.
“I look at all the young families and think about the legacy you are creating,” Noem said. “They watch you, they watch how you serve. You serve with honor and distinction, and that means the world to me.
Cayser and Chief Master Sgt. Sarah Hilmoe read the names of the 410 Airmen who deployed during the year, each standing. In the end, Cayser demanded that the families of the aviators also be recognized for their sacrifice.
As the airmen exited the hangar for a group photo and the families held back, awaiting the return of their guard, the jets took off for their missions – an air guard is still on duty.