When America needs a workhorse, when we need to flex our muscles and show our strength, when we need to respond to terrorists in the Middle East or deter a tyrannical North Korean dictator, America turns to Ellsworth Air Force Base.

Even so, it wasn’t that long ago the base, which sits right outside of Box Elder, was on the list for closure. Given the mission-critical roles Ellsworth’s bomber fleet has served in recent decades and that the expanded Powder River Training Complex sits in our backyard, an attempt at closure now seems to be in the rearview. So, we’re looking forward, and I’m optimistic South Dakota’s base is in the right position to receive America’s next-generation bomber, the B-21 – a critical asset to combat foreign threats long into the future.

While this plane will modernize the country’s airpower beyond what many can imagine, we faced opposition to its development time and again. Just over a year into my first term, in fact, I fought to defeat an amendment that would have delayed B-21 development by a decade. We were successful and plans for the B-21 pressed forward.

By 2015, we were on the cusp of expanding the Powder River Training Complex, which is reserved air space near the base. Nothing can replace the value of air time for our airmen. Proper training and readiness are critical to our airmen’s safety and success in the field. With the expansion of air space at Powder River, Ellsworth Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force would have critical access to one of the largest training ranges in the country.

I met repeatedly with top military, transportation, and aviation officials, urging folks to commit to the expansion. In March 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration finally approved the Air Force’s expansion plan, which not only expanded training space but produced $23 million in fuel savings for the Air Force every year by allowing for critical exercises to be done so close to the base.

During this same time, Ellsworth’s 28th Bomber Wing moved under the control of the Air Force Global Strike Command, which provides combat-ready forces for nuclear deterrence and global strike operations. The transition further reinforced Ellsworth’s place within the military’s strategic framework.

As we continue to upgrade base operations and military equipment, we must also invest in the next generation of service members. One of the most significant honors I have is to nominate young South Dakotans to our four U.S. service academies: the Military Academy in West Point, New York; the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.

Year after year, I am amazed by the integrity, grit, and determination of the South Dakota students who apply. This year, applications are due to my office by October 31. Anyone interested can learn more by visiting my website at noem.house.gov/ServiceAcademy or by calling our office at (605) 275-2868.

The United States has the world’s most powerful and skilled military. Our men and women in uniform are second to none. With the B-21, we are modernizing our fleet. With Powder River, we are investing in the training and new technologies needed to combat modern threats. And through our service academies, we are equipping the next generation with the skills and confidence required to succeed. Improving our readiness in these ways will not only prepare us for the next major crisis; these actions send a message to our enemies that we’re ready to respond with strength and precision – no matter the threat.

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