By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Thule Air Force Base in Greenland is about as remote an assignment as one can get in the U.S. Air Force. So when a visit from distinguished visitors turns into connections to home it is a welcome occurrence.
For 1st Lt. Kathryn Stuard, 821st Support Squadron civil engineer flight commander and Maj. David Troxell, 821st Support Squadron commander, a visit from a group of senators turned into a homecoming of sorts as well as a surprise for family back home.
The story unfolds like this: A delegation of senators including Sens. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, John Barrasso, R-WY and their spouses visited the base in late September. As part of their tour the group was briefed on runway and construction techniques used in the Arctic. Stuard conducted that brief.
“I was proud to see a South Dakota native responsible for engineering work in an arctic climate, dealing with all the challenges of permafrost. It makes me proud to see all of her accomplishments already,” said Rounds.
Stuard is familiar with Rounds who was a long-time state senator before becoming South Dakota’s 31st governor. He was elected as U.S. Senator in 2014.
“I knew about him all through high-school which is really when I first started paying attention to that sort of thing. His is a well-known name all around South Dakota,” Stuard said.
As soon as Rounds discovered he and Stuard shared the same home state he asked about her family. Before long Rounds asked Stuard if they could phone her family so he could share his pride in her work.
“When he first asked about calling my parents, I asked if we could call my grandpa, Delbert Ashlock, instead,” Stuard explained. The phone was busy so Rounds called her father, Gary, instead. “It was just a quick conversation, but Sen. Rounds said that he was here at Thule with me and that I was doing good work and that he was proud of me.”
But the best part, she said, came next. Sen. Barrasso, whose phone they used for the call, came over to them and had her grandfather on the line. Stuard and Rounds were able to speak to Ashlock, who was very excited to speak to the senator.
Her family was surprised and happy to hear from Rounds, but as Ashlock told Stuard in a phone conversation later that day, he didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know.
“They thought it was pretty cool that I was able to meet Sen. Rounds in Greenland of all places. It’s not many South Dakotans I run into up here,” she said.
Visits of this type require a great deal of preparation and Stuard said knowing one of her home state senators was part of the group made it easier to dive into the work.
“When I had the chance to meet them, he and his wife were so nice to talk to and then when he insisted on calling my family, that just took it over the top,” she said. “I know it meant a lot to my grandpa to get that call, so that made all the prep work well worth it.”
A bit later the delegation was having some casual conversation when it came out that Rounds called Stuard’s family. Troxell said he is impressed with what Stuard brings to Thule as an officer and flight commander, so he admits bragging to Murkowski that the lieutenant must have made a great impression on Rounds.
Murkowski found that Troxell lives in Alaska and after some discussion about his family, it came out that his wife Rebekah is an auditor for the Division of Legislative Audit back in Alaska.
“Wait a minute, why aren’t we calling your wife?” Murkowski asked.
Troxell told Murkowski it would be really early back home, but she asked if it would be ok to wake her up with a call him.
“I knew it was about 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, but also knew my wife would never let me live it down if I turned away the opportunity,” Troxell said. “My wife thought it was wonderful, although it was an unexpected phone conversation since it was 5:30 a.m. in Anchorage. She was quite surprised, nonetheless.”
Troxell said he appreciated the effort the senators made to connect with their families.
“Both Sens. Rounds and Murkowski didn’t have to go out of their way to add a personal touch to their visit to Thule, yet they did,” he said. “It’s a significant testimony to their character as representatives and (the) support of the people they serve.”