One of the things I appreciate most about those who served is that they didn’t rely on someone else to protect freedom. Veterans didn’t assume someone else would make the sacrifices so our kids could sleep safely in their beds every night. They raised their hand. They said yes to the call. When I became governor, I told my team that I wanted to be a leader who shows gratitude to our veterans, but I don’t just want to show gratitude in the words that I say. I want to take action to help our veterans. I want to enact policies that make their lives better. I want to say “thank you,” both in word and in deed, to those that sacrifice their life so that we should go on living as a free people, free to choose our own destiny in this great nation. South Dakota is setting an example for the nation. We’ve taken action to honor our veterans. In fact, a recent study by Smart Asset named South Dakota the “Best State for Veterans.” We expanded the free tuition program for veterans to include technical colleges in addition to regents institutions. We started the Fallen Heroes bridge dedications to honor our heroes killed in combat. To date, seven state bridges have been named after South Dakota’s fallen heroes. We’ve increased property tax exemptions for veterans with disabilities. We authorized a new tax exemption for paraplegic or amputee veterans. We increased the number of beds at the Hot Springs Veterans Home, so that we can care for more veterans. And we broke ground on the first ever State Veterans Cemetery in Sioux Falls. Now, South Dakota families will have a final resting place for the heroes who have defended our country. South Dakota has deployed nearly 9,000 soldiers and airmen in support of various operations since 9/11 alone. It’s always such a privilege to welcome home units from deployment and to see moms and dads be reunited with their kids, spouses, and loved-ones. This past June, South Dakota welcomed home 69 soldiers with the 152nd Combat Sustainment Support Brigade (CSSB.) They had been deployed for 11 months in the Middle East as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. And in July, 110 soldiers from Alpha Battery, 1-147th Field Artillery and the 147th Forward Support Company returned to South Dakota from a 10-month deployment in Europe. I cannot express how much gratitude I have for the sacrifices our soldiers are making to be away from their own families in service to our American family. We also sent some South Dakota-based units out for deployment this year. In August, more than 190 soldiers with the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade deployed to Djibouti to support Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, and in October, the 114th Fighter Wing began its rotation of up to 110 Airmen for deployments across the globe in support of a Reserve Component Period. The Airmen will deploy to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. One cannot put a price tag on time away from family. There are no makeup days for missed births, first steps, meal time conversations about the day, or the birthdays and holidays that our soldiers won’t be there for during a deployment. It’s because of the readiness capabilities of our active duty military personnel that our country continues to be a shining beacon of freedom to all people around the world. Just this year, the Pierre-based 152nd CSSB won Gen. Walter T. Kerwin, Jr. Readiness Award for excellence, meaning they are the most outstanding Army National Guard battalion in the nation. They won the award last year as well, and in 2018, South Dakota’s 139th Brigade Support Battalion were the recipients. You read that right; for three years running, South Dakota has had the very best Army National Guard troops in the entire nation. As a fellow American, I am grateful to live in a nation protected by citizen soldiers who are willing to answer the call to fight terror across the world. I commend our Veterans for their leadership, bravery, and willingness to work toward peace and stability around the globe. This Veterans Day, I encourage you to take a moment and personally thank one of South Dakota’s 65,000 veterans. Thank our active duty servicemen and women. Thank their families, too. And to all the veterans and military personnel reading this, thank you for your service to our state and our country. South Dakota will always honor you. God bless you, and Happy Veterans Day!