As a community, the Black Hills is proud to be the home of Ellsworth Air Force Base and several South Dakota National Guard units. We’re grateful for the selfless commitment our military members and families give in the defense of our freedoms. 36 years ago a casual BBQ was held to recognize a handful of Airmen and Soldiers for their outstanding achievements and it evolved into a fun community event that hosts over 500 military families.
The 36th Annual Military Appreciation BBQ will be held from 5-8 PM on July 22nd at the Central States Fairground. Please take a moment to check out this year’s honorees and their incredible stories of service.
SSgt. Ryan Strecker: 28th Communications Squadron
28th Mission Support Group
SSgt Strecker hails from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. On his recent deployment lasting from 31 July 2021 to 28 January 2022, SSgt Strecker was given a high priority taskers that assisted in the standup of the 609th Air Operation Center’s airlift coordination cell at Al Udeid, Qatar. He established direct lines of communication between tactical air controllers at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul Airport, the Air Operation Center, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s headquarters in Shape, Belgium.
Joining him tonight are his fellow Raiders from Ellsworth.
TSgt. Dustin Hicks
28th Bomb Wing: Wing Staff Agency
TSgt Hicks hails from Delta, Ohio. He was deployed 25 Mar 21 – 24 Oct 21 to Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a Weapons Safety Manager. Directly participated in Operation ALLIES REFUGE. He has deployed six times to five different countries. His military awards include the Air and Space Achievement Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Air and Space Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters and the Humanitarian Service Medal for his participation in OAR.
Joining him tonight are his fellow Raiders from Ellsworth.
TSgt. Laurenz Blanco-Arboleda
28th Operations Support Squadron
Laurenz hails from Kodiak, Alaska. He served as the Air Traffic Control liaison at several locations that included Israel and Germany as Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the European Altitude Reservation Facility coordinating and securing essential airspace for various DoD missions throughout Europe, Africa, and the Mediterranean. His keen sense for multi-cultural partnerships also stands out as president of the Ellsworth Asian Pacific American Association.
Joining him tonight are his wife, Emily Blanco-Arboleda, and many of his fellow Gryphons from the 28th O-S-S.
SSgt. Mark Bunz
28th Maintenance Squadron
Additionally, he leads the Aircraft Structural Maintenance teams that maintain the structural integrity of the base’s B-1 fleet; where he’s led several major repairs on B-1 aircraft that are typically accomplished at a higher level repair station, bringing increased Maintenance capability to Ellsworth Air Force Base.
Joining him tonight are many of his fellow maintainers.
Capt. Joseph C. Smith Jr
28th Medical Group
Capt. Joseph C. Smith Jr. is from St. Augustine, Florida and is a Physician Assistant for the 28th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Smith performs primary medical care and clinical duties as an independent health care provider assigned to a primary care team. Smith manages the medical care for seven squadrons and supports more than 1,000 service members. His pursuit of excellence in care has helped the 28th Bomb Wing exceed readiness goals and be able to provide long-range strike, anytime, anywhere.
Captain Smith is joined tonight by his wife, Katie, and sons, Brayden and Kaiden.
Mr. David Darling
28th Maintenance Group
He has developed 47 unique aviation and countless non-aviation repairs to include the first ever on aircraft restoration utilizing cold spray technology saving the Air Force over $5 million dollars.
Mr. Darling hails from Meshoppen, Pennsylvania. He retired after 26 years of active duty Air Force, and has been currently running the AM Facility for over 6 years.
Joining him tonight are his wife Stacey Darling, daughters Taylor Wiley and Alexis Cochran, and son Jaxon Darling.
Mrs. Kimberly Graves:
28th Aircraft Maintenance Group
Mrs. Kimberly Graves is a key spouse for the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base. As a key spouse, Mrs. Graves acts as a liaison between civilian spouses and squadron leadership by facilitating concerns, needs, or problems that may arise during deployments, PCSing,
TDYs, and more.
Mrs. Graves recently organized, designed and researched an Air Force wide spouse history project that was displayed at the 2022 Ellsworth Air Show. Furthermore, she has contributed to countless projects and events that increased the quality of life for our Raider families.
Mrs. Graves hails from San Antonio, Texas. She has been serving as a key spouse for 6 years.
Mrs. Graves is joined tonight by her husband TSgt. Philip Graves, her three children Andrew,
JohnDavid and Liberty Graves, and her parents David and Beverly Mitchell.
Sgt. 1st Class Christina Sihrer
Joint Forces Headquarters
Sihrer provided outstanding support this past year maintaining the automated supply system of accounting of Joint Forces Headquarters supplies and equipment.
Sihrer has also deployed overseas in support of humanitarian operations in Haiti in 2010 and in Suriname in 2008 as well as multiple engineer projects in Germany and the United Kingdom in 2000 and 2014 respectively.
Warrant Officer Ben English
Detachment 1, Company B, 1/112th Aviation Regiment
English provided outstanding support this past year aiding with search and rescue and areal security operations.
English is also a combat veteran and served in Kuwait and Iraq in 2018 with the 935th Aviation Support Battalion, providing helicopter maintenance support for U.S. Army rotary aircraft operating throughout the Middle East.
Wife of CW5 Wayne Walker, Det. 5 Co C 2/641st
Beth Walker is the wife of Chief Warrant Officer 5 Wayne Walker, the South Dakota National Guard State Command Chief Warrant Officer. Beth has provided outstanding support for her husband, his unit, and his service in the South Dakota Army National Guard.
Due to the nature and frequency of the travel and training of her husband’s unit, Amanda demonstrated unwavering commitment to her soldier and the unit, as well as supported Detachment 5 Company C 2nd of the 641 Aviation Regiment families while leading their family readiness group through three deployments. Beth has provided countless hours of support by providing encouragement, volunteering for event support, gifting food, and making phone calls to other families and spouses.
Civilian Employee, SDNG
Staci Burchett is the Executive Assistant to the Adjutant General of the South Dakota Army National Guard. She is from Rapid City and has 29 years of civil service.
She was Active Duty Airforce for 11 years and received numerous awards for her service including the Armed Forces Service medalBurchette’s outstanding performance, work ethic and dedication to duty is of the highest caliber among the SDARNG’s civilian employees. Her demonstrated performance for the Adjutant General’s Office has been invaluable.
Spc. Leighton Weber
147th Army Band
Spc. Leighton Weber serves as a musician with the 147th Army Band in Mitchell. He is from Piedmont and has 1 year of service in the South Dakota Army National Guard.
Weber provided outstanding support this past year as the lead guitar player for Drive On, which is a small group comprised of select members of the 147th Army Band. The group plays for many events around the state including most recently a traveling Vietnam War Memorial.
Weber is a recent graduate from Rapid City Christian Highschool where he was active with the Love Inc. charity. He is a member of four different bands and plays shows all over South Dakota.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Allard
Medical Readiness Detachment
On top of being a Periodic Health Assessment Medic and CPR Instructor, He tracks all the members of the South Dakota National Guard’s immunization records. Allard provided outstanding support this past year responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, he provided case management for all South Dakota National Guard members that tested positive for the virus as well as developing policies and procedures to protect the Guard force from the pandemic.
Staff Sgt. Brianna Haffner
Company C, 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation Regiment
Staff Sgt. Brianna Haffner serves as a Flight Operations Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge with Company C, 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation Regiment in Rapid City. She is from Black Hawk and has 12 years of service in the South Dakota Army National Guard.
Haffner provided outstanding support this past year by conducting training and coordination between teams for the operations section in the 189th. She also prepares schedules, trainings and counselings as well as preparing equipment to preform missions, tracking flights via radio contact or online tracking device, and coordination of specialized equipment.
Over her career, Haffner served on a number of state active duty missions supporting the state of South Dakota, which include multiple fire and medivac responses.
Haffner is also a combat veteran and served in Syria with Company C, 1st Battalion, 189th Aviation Regiment – earning the Army Commendation Medal for her service.
Wall Meat Processing
Military Friendly Business of the Year
Wall Meats is a local butcher shop specializing in locally raised beef and pork. Opening in 2017, this Veteran Owned business has quickly become a local household name. Ken and Janet and the Wall Meats team work closely with many community organizations, local ranches, and schools to offer quality local meat at affordable prices. Even further, Wall Meats has dedicated time and resources to the education and future growth of the industry by teaming up with local educational institutions to offer classes butcher classes and farm to table awareness.
Wall Meats is a proud supporter of our local military members, veterans, and families. The offer military discounts, support military appreciation events, and use their communication and outreach channels to promote military appreciation.
With multiple nominations, the Military Appreciation BBQ Planning Committee selected Wall Meats at this year’s Military Friendly Business of the Year because they actively work within the community to be a mentor to Military and Veterans and a representation of how those with military
service can continue to serve in meaningful ways within their communities and professions.