Before we became the United States of America, before we proclaimed that We the People have certain inalienable rights, before we had the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines, and Coast Guard, the National Guard was there fighting for freedom and security.

In the colonial world, colonists needed to be self sufficient.  They just didn’t have the money to hire professional fighters, as was customary in Europe at that time.  So, on December 13, 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony established a militia made up of citizen soldiers.  Today, we know that militia as the National Guard.

The National Guard has grown into a worldwide military force.  It is a cornerstone in many of our communities and it enables our country to meet the challenges of an uncertain world, just as it did during colonial times.

When the Missouri River flooded, South Dakota’s National Guard was there to patrol the levees and put up sandbags that protected homes and businesses.

When an ice storm hit Sioux Falls and a blizzard buried West River, the National Guard was there to help dig out and clean up.

And in the years since the twin towers fell, the South Dakota National Guard has defended our homeland and our commitment to universal freedom.  That is a debt we can never repay.

This week, many of us will be wrapping up our Christmas decorating – and some may already be starting to wrap a few gifts too.  While it’s easy to get caught in the busyness of the holiday season, we can’t forget that some South Dakota National Guard families will have a little quieter Christmas this year.  Their gifts have already been shipped so they can make the 7,000 mile trip to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and beyond by Christmas morning.  I can’t even imagine.

Many of those deployed today joined the South Dakota National Guard after 9/11, knowing there was a good chance they’d have to spend at least one Christmas in a desert dust storm instead of a snow storm.  That kind of courage, patriotism and selflessness should be admired.

And as our world evolves, so does the National Guard.

One of the most incredible, forward-looking efforts the Guard has undertaken is the State Partnership Program.  We live in a small world.  Our economy and security rely on our relationships with countries halfway around the globe, meaning our national defense strategy requires a new level of cooperation with our allies. 

Through the State Partnership Program, the National Guard has built relationships with 71 countries, 25 partner nations contributed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and 31,000 partner-nation personnel are involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations.  That reduces the demand for U.S. forces abroad, keeping more of our men and women in uniform home this Christmas.

This week, I hope you join me in wishing a happy 377th birthday to the National Guard.  My family and I are so grateful for their continued service.  Especially during the holiday season, we will be praying for all those who won’t be home this Christmas.

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