Rapid City is a proud military town. With Ellsworth Air Force Base located in nearby Box Elder and the South Dakota Army National Guard’s Camp Rapid just up the road, the influence of the armed forces on the surrounding Black Hills area is obvious and inevitable. And for the upcoming Military Appreciation Night on Saturday, April 1, the Rush are once again celebrating that local connection via the specialty jerseys the team will wear for the game.
The jerseys will resemble the flight suits worn by the United States Air Force. They are the olive green color of a flight suit, the attire of the aircrew members and those engaged in flight or flight-related duties. The patch on the front of the jerseys represents the 28th Bomb Wing, the Air Force Wing at Ellsworth, one of the two bases responsible for the combat-ready operation and maintenance of the B-1B Lancer. The shoulders feature patches that represent the 34th Bomb Squadron and the 37th Bomb Squadron, both of which are located at Ellsworth.
Further extending the Rush’s connection to the local community, Saturday’s jerseys feature the call signs of active duty aviators of both the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons.
The Rush worked in partnership with Ellsworth Air Force Base in order to bring the idea to life, to garner a list of call signs for the Rush players to choose from, and to have an aviator from one of the squadrons out to speak to the team on the significance of what they were selecting.
“I thought it was an awesome idea,” said Major Mike Webster, a weapon systems officer on the B-1 bomber at Ellsworth, and an attached member of the 37th Bomb Squadron. “It’s a very unique thing to be associated with. The personalization and ownership of having your name on a professional sports jersey is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Webster visited the Rush after practice in February to explain the elements of the flight suit that the jerseys will replicate and teach the team what a call sign represents.
“That was awesome,” said Rush winger and defenseman Keegan Iverson. “The work they put in and the service they do for us is awesome. Being able to have him there and explain what [call signs] actually mean and to learn about the people behind it was eye-opening.”
He educated the team on the fact that in the Air Force, your call sign becomes your name. Once it’s given to you, it is almost exclusively what you are referred to and how you’re addressed, especially in informal settings.
The timeline varies slightly from squadron to squadron but in general, these monikers are assigned after an air crew member makes it through their basic military training, their flight training and eventually completes the training for the specific plane they are assigned to. Following that they go through mission qualification training with their operational squadron. It’s a multi-year process to become mission qualified, and only at the conclusion of this rigorous process is an aviator named with a call sign.
Receiving a call sign can feel like a reward, an acceptance into the brother and sisterhood of combat aviators. The culmination of the time and effort that you’ve put in to reach this elite level.
Webster, whose call sign is LOBO, watched the players select which call sign they would sport for Saturday’s game following his presentation. Following the production of the jerseys, Ellsworth AFB Public Affairs revealed, to the bomb squadrons, the list of whose call signs were selected by the team and in turn whose would be seen on the ice on Saturday.
“After PA sent out the list of which names were selected by the players, there has definitely been a buzz among the squadrons,” Webster said. “One of the texts I received said ‘this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen a sports team do’ so people are definitely excited about it.”
That buzz exists in the Rush locker room as well.
“It’ll be super cool to wear those jerseys,” Iverson said. “It’s obviously an honor to be able to do this. Being able to rock the call signs with it is really cool for us.”
Call signs are almost always created from a story or a characteristic. From something that happened with the aviator during training, a defining personality trait or unique aspect of their physical appearance or their background. The aviators try to get creative with the actual names, and knowing how eventually these stories eventually will be shared, they want to make sure the story behind it is worth hearing.
Everybody from the squadron who already has a call sign gets together and brainstorms what name to settle on after sharing all the stories of the aviator in question. It varies from squadron to squadron but the final decision is almost always a group effort.These men and women are happy to share what their call sign is with the general public but are unlikely to share the story behind the name unless, as Webster puts it, “the circumstances are right.”
The flight suit style sweaters that feature the call signs from the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons area continuation of the Rush’s commitment to incorporate a local connection into their Military Appreciation Night. In 2022, Rapid City donned jerseys that depicted and remembered the 1942 Doolittle Raid, a morale-building victory that was the retaliation to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Three of the four squadrons that participated in the Doolittle Raid are now stationed at Ellsworth.
That local connection became even more personal for this season’s jerseys, and the direct representation of those who are currently stationed at Ellsworth, the combat-ready men and women of these squadrons, is clearly appreciated.
“I’ve never heard of anybody else outside of the [service] academies doing something like this,” Webster said. “When the email went out regarding who wanted to have their call sign on a jersey, people were emailing back, raising their hand, calling as quickly as they possibly could to try and get their name in the hat. By the Rush including us in the design of these jerseys, it makes us, as military members, feel a part of the community. And it shows the support for the base and our mission, so it’s greatly appreciated.”
Military Appreciation Night, presented by AARP, is on Saturday, April 1 at 7:05 p.m. The specialty jerseys that feature the call signs of the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base will be available for auction live immediately following the game. Tickets are available online, in person at the Rush office or by phone at (605) 716-7825.