Past and present military members honored for service

Published: May. 21, 2023 at 9:56 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Saturday was Armed Forces Day, and a ceremony was held at the Military Heritage Alliance to honor and celebrate past and present members of our armed forces and share in the pride of a nation.

Festivities included multiple awards presented to active military members, an official Oath of Enlistment, and a special keynote address delivered by Brigadier General Deborah Bartunek. She’s an inspiration to many, as she’s the first woman to hold this rank in the South Dakota National Guard.

“I’m humbled and I’m honored. It’s something I’ve worked for my whole career, but I think more to me, it’s for our National Guard,” Bartunek explained. “It’s what does it mean to them? It’s breaking a glass ceiling for women to see that they can achieve this rank. I’m honored and I’m humbled to be able to serve in this capacity and for others to see that they can do it as well.”

When Bartunek joined the National Guard, she was a freshman at SDSU. Since then, she’s spent 40 years in the military and held many enlisted and leadership positions throughout her career.

“This is what I do. It’s not who I am. That’s something very important for leaders to remember is remember who you are,” Bartunek said.

Part of that identity is as a wife and mother, but even her family has connections to service. Ted, her father-in-law, and her brother-in-law also served in the National Guard. They have a strong family that has stood by them over the years.

“As a dual-status military family, there come challenges with that, especially if you have children,” Bartunek said. “Family has supported us every step of the way. When my husband and I both would have to be gone, we always had them there to take care of our boys.”

Serving our country is not something everyone can do, it requires great character.

“They’re servant leaders. Selfless service. It takes somebody who really has a desire to serve,” Bartunek said. “There’s sacrifice and it takes special people to embrace that and to step up and do that.”

Bartunek served internationally in Panama and Israel, as well as at home in Florida and South Dakota. She’s proud to have served her country and home state.

“My background is South Dakota and I think South Dakota is probably the most patriotic state in the nation. It’s just been a fantastic journey,” Bartunek said.

She takes pride in representing her country as well as being a role model for other service members. She has plenty of advice for young service members.

“For anyone, whether it’s male or female, work hard and your efforts are going to be recognized,” Bartunek said. “Don’t give up. There are ups and downs in your career and it’s something you persevere through.”