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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

April 1, 2019

Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, March 26

After a tragedy: The faces left behind

When it comes to waging political battles over issues such as gun control, we all know the tactics to use, chief among them being the last one: moving on to the next flashpoint when another outburst of violence draws our collective national attention.

But we sometimes forget what’s being left behind — and that there are those who cannot move on.

In the past month, two young survivors of last year’s school massacre in Parkland, Florida, have reportedly committed suicide. One of the victims was a former student; the other a current student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The apparent reason behind both tragic acts was the kids’ inability to cope with the momentous grief of last year’s carnage, in which they saw friends and peers gunned down. There is also a factor called survivor’s guilt, which is not uncommon with those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Then, on Monday, it was reported that a father of one of the young victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut took his life.

For those left behind after such harrowing episodes as mass shootings, the reality can become unlivable.

“Without a doubt, it has an indelible effect on the community,” criminologist Scott Bonn, who blogs for Psychology Today, told USA Today. “There’s just this lingering collective sense of grief and pain.”

According to the National Center for PTSD, 28 percent of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop PTSD, and a third develop acute stress disorder, CNN reported.

This is not a new phenomenon. The same USA Today story also focused on Zach Cartaya, a survivor of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. Fifteen people died on the day of the shooting, but others have committed suicide in the years since.

“These things ripple out. A stone drops in a pond and it all ripples out. And I understand that better now than when I was younger,” said Cartaya, who said he also struggled with suicidal thoughts. “We’ve lost so many people along the way: that isolation, that grief, that anger manifests in the worst possible ways. It’s awful, it’s devastating, but unfortunately it’s not shocking.”

It’s become a harrowingly indiscriminate fact of life, one that may be faced by soldiers in combat as well as students (and parents and educators) impacted by a school massacre. It can be the pain of seeing the dying, and it can be the pain of still being among the living.

“That survivors guilt can be a very, very slippery slope,” Cartaya explained. “You think, ‘I have these invisible wounds that really shouldn’t hurt: Who am I to have these feelings?’”

This isn’t confined solely to gun violence. It’s about mass trauma and the inability to cope; it’s about the rising rate of suicide and the stress that feeds it. It’s about action and reaction. It’s about life and death, and not “thoughts and prayers.”

It’s about the faces that are left behind in a tragedy once our attentions turn to the next flashpoint. The wounds of those who were there remain, and they’re forced to live with the pain and emptiness every day. And sometimes, some of them can’t.

One key, experts say, is a support system that those who have been exposed to such events can turn to for help. It can include family, friends, professionals — people who can be there and let the hurting person know that he or she is not alone in the struggle.

Alas, there’s no simple answer here. There is only tragedy and the aftermath, and how each person tries to deal with it. Even after the nation’s attention moves elsewhere, there are those who are left to face the aftermath. They cannot be forgotten.

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Rapid City Journal, March 24

Ulmer shrugged: Lessons of Atlas

Tuesday will mark the passage of 2,000 days since an annoying early October rain grew into Winter Storm Atlas, felling trees, cattle and emergency services.

For those who weren’t here on Oct. 4, 2013, Atlas emerged unexpectedly from 60-degree autumn splendor to claim 43,000 head of livestock, consume $38 million in public and private property across the state, knock out power to tens of thousands, and bring a small forest of trees crashing to earth. Rapid City — which was slated to get less than 6 inches of snow — froze in place. Nearly 5 feet of heavy, wet snow buried one spot in the Northern Hills.

Those who suffered through it need no reminder, which explains the region’s careful preparation and quick response to last week’s Winter Storm Ulmer. The polar opposite of Atlas, Ulmer was loudly heralded as a bomb cyclone — a veritable sharknado — with predictions of 15 inches of snow in Rapid City whipped by 60 mph gusts. Ulmer’s bite, although troublesome, turned out to be somewhat less. A few great white drifts swallowed cars, but only 5 inches of snow fell in Rapid City.

Kudos to all — city, school, county, private contractors, neighbors — who further lessened the pain. People prepared themselves and then stayed home. Snowplows and emergency crews got after it. By midafternoon Thursday, the place was fit for a parental homecoming inspection after a big teenage party.

In the Black Hills, we have learned to take storm forecasts — especially those falling on winter’s shoulders — as educated best guesses. When they talk about infinite variety here, they also mean the weather. Geography turns it into our box of chocolates — we never know what we’re going to get. Weathermen look straight into the camera and predict snowfall ranges of between 2 to 12 inches. Of course they can’t simply shrug and admit: We have no idea.

Atlas caught us flatfooted, and its big brother will someday come, in 20 days or 2,000.

Each storm finds us weighing risks on insufficient information. Some among us have come to resemble those crazy Floridians who are determined to stand their ground in a beach tent pitched in the bulls-eye of a Cat. 5 hurricane. Others drain local supermarket shelves on every snowfall prediction of greater than 2 inches.

This time, Black Hills residents heeded the dire warnings, but Armageddon didn’t come. It’s human nature to say, well, see, we — or they — always overreact. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Sometimes we underreact, and we pay dearly for it. Atlas proved it.

The tendency to grow complacent over time is probably the second biggest threat we face. This time we remembered Atlas. Will it still be on our minds come Sept. 12, 2024 — 2,000 days from now?

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Madison Daily Leader, Madison, March 26

B-21 Training Unit good for South Dakota

United States Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, a former president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, announced that Ellsworth Air Force Base will be home to the B-21 Formal Training Unit and be the first base to receive an operational squadron of B-21 Raider bombers.

We’re excited to hear the announcement and eager to see progress on its implementation.

The announcement caught us somewhat off guard, as it seems defense planning like this takes forever to come to fruition. Our congressional delegation has been working toward this day for many years.

We believe the announcement helps assure a bright future for Ellsworth, which 14 years ago faced a possible closure. Since then, many people have worked to establish the base as an essential part of our national defense.

We aren’t skeptical of the implementation, but when it comes to national defense plans, things can change. Other bases wanted to be the first, and powerful members of Congress may try to change the plan. Secretary Wilson will leave her post on May 31 to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso. The planes aren’t yet built and are scheduled to be delivered in the mid-2020s.

Even so, we have confidence the program will be implemented as planned. The B-21s are part of the Air Force’s Long Range Strike Bomber program and will be capable of delivering conventional or thermonuclear weapons. More than 100 B-21 bombers could be added to the force at Ellsworth and other Air Force bases.

Ellsworth Air Force Base has not only an important role in the nation’s defense but also an important place in the economy of Rapid City, and therefore in South Dakota.

More than 4,000 people live at the Ellsworth “census designated place” (as defined by the Census Bureau), requiring substantial purchases of goods and services and other economic activity from local companies. The base was established in 1941.

We’re excited about the announcement and are enthused about Ellsworth’s long-term future.

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