In 1636, a small militia regiment banded together to better defend colonists who arrived in North America. We know this as the founding of the first regiment of the National Guard, the oldest component of our country’s armed forces. Since the Revolutionary War, our nation has depended on our own local citizen-soldiers to combat challenges here at home and around the world. They’ve defended our nation in every war since America’s founding and have rushed to help communities affected by every natural disaster. From the revolutionary minutemen at Lexington and Concord to the mountains in Afghanistan, the National Guard has always stood ready to keep our country safe and our freedom intact.

I recently had the honor of attending a welcome home ceremony for 336 airmen of the 155th Air Refueling Wing and their families at the Air National Guard Base in Lincoln.

With nearly 1,000 total members, the 155th Air Refueling Wing is the largest Air National Guard unit in the state of Nebraska. In the skies, their job is to provide in-flight refueling for U.S. military aircraft, extending their range around the globe and ensuring our troops fulfill their mission. The Wing currently operates eight aircraft, with an inventory based upon the KC-135R Stratotanker, a platform that provides vital refueling capabilities for our military.

On the ground, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal group detects, identifies, recovers, and disposes of U.S. and foreign ordnance. This includes explosives handmade by criminals and terrorists, and chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

Without the Air National Guard, the Air Force could not accomplish sustained air combat operations – and the 155th Air Refueling Wing stands out as a key member of the team.

The Wing has had a very productive year. They’ve had a presence in 12 countries supporting six different combatant commands, processed over 20,000 passengers, and moved 430 tons of cargo. In an impressive feat, the Wing conducted 312 combat missions offloading over 4.5 million pounds of fuel over Afghan airspace.

Members of the 155th Air Refueling Wing also successfully carried out an unforeseen mission here at home this year.

During the catastrophic flooding that devastated many of our communities last spring, the Wing sprang into action and provided desperately needed assistance. They worked quickly with Offutt Air Force Base to relocate critical aircraft and minimize the damages from the floodwater. When some of our communities were surrounded by floodwaters, they delivered over 24 tons of sandbags and bottled water to Nebraskans in need. Their actions were a testament to their training, character, and integrity.

At the ceremony, I was grateful for the opportunity to thank these brave men and women, and their families, for their service and sacrifice to our nation. I also wanted to reassure these servicemembers that as conflicts continue in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, I will be their advocate in the United States Senate. I will continue to work hard and use my position as a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to make sure that they have the resources and support needed to fulfill their mission.

America maintains her freedom in part because of the 155th Air Refueling Wing and all members of the National Guard. Their efforts to continually uphold their motto of “Always ready, always there” are inspiring. I couldn’t be prouder of these men and women for all they do to protect our freedom. They are truly a force for community and country.

On a related note, I also want to recognize Nebraska Task Force One, a FEMA Search and Rescue team, that was deployed to Florida and Georgia ahead of Hurricane Dorian. The task force is a group of 16 first responders and volunteers – eight members of Lincoln Fire & Rescue, five members of the Omaha Fire Department, two civilian members, and one member of the Council Bluffs Fire Department. I’m thankful for their life-saving efforts as they assist those affected by these terrible storms.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

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