Helen Merriman, director of the South Dakota Center for Enterprise Opportunity (SD CEO) at Black

Helen Merriman, South Dakota Center for Enterprise Opportunity director, was recently selected to be an honorary commander for the Ellsworth Air Force Base 28th Bomb Wing.  Pictured, from left to right, Maj. Rebecca Welton, commander of the 28th Contracting Squadron, Roger Merriman, Helen Merriman, and Col. Mark E. Weatherington, commander of the 28thBomb Wing.

Hills State University, was among 29 community members and business leaders recently selected to serve as honorary commanders for the 28thBomb Wing at the Ellsworth Air Force Base.

The 28th Honorary Commanders program, like similar civic outreach programs with the Air Force, seeks to foster positive relationships between base leaders and their neighbors throughout the Black Hills. Honorary commanders are identified as leaders in the Black Hills who have a desire to enhance and strengthen the relationship between EAFB and neighboring communities throughout the Black Hills.

“This is a tremendous honor and a very humbling experience,” Merriman said. “I am looking forward to having a close connection with the 28th Contracting Squadron.  It is a great fit with my position as SD CEO director as one of our objectives is to encourage veterans, men and women, to consider starting or growing a business.”

The 28thContracting Squadron’s mission is to provide agile contracting support and business advice to Ellsworth and combatant commanders.

The two-year appointment will also provide a great opportunity to strengthen BHSU’s relationship with the Air Force base, she said.  The SD CEO is housed in the College of Business and Natural Sciences at BHSU.

“My Honorary Commander role will enable me to continually represent BHSU whenever I am on base, provide awareness of BHSU to those I am engaged with from Col. Mark E. Weatherington, his leadership team, to all of the members of the 28th Contracting squadron, to the other Honorary Commanders as well as those airmen and women who attend the educational sessions we sponsor or are involved with,” Merriman said.

Throughout its history, the honorary commander program has helped bolster awareness of Ellsworth, its role in the nation’s security, and the high caliber airmen and women who work tirelessly to accomplish the base’s mission, according to Steven Merrill, public affairs specialist with the 28thBomb Wing.

“Our aim is to develop mutually beneficial, long-lasting partnerships with community leaders that foster a better understanding of the Air Force, Ellsworth and the mission we accomplish every day,” he said. “Just as importantly, the program has provided those serving at Ellsworth with a better understanding of all that the Black Hills has to offer. One thing that cannot be forgotten is all the great relationships that are created between community leaders and those who have served at Ellsworth.”

The SD CEO has already been working with the base to offer assistance to airmen and women who are leaving the Air Force. As a resource partner of the Small Business Administration (SBA), the SD CEO presents seminars at the EAFB through its Transition Assistance Program.

“SD CEO as a resource partner of the SBA is on the base twice a year to present information to the airmen and women on how to start a business and market a small business,” Merriman said. Additionally, the SD CEO offers counseling and workshops to veterans interested in starting a business.

Merriman said she is already planning for additional educational sessions at the base. “I will work hard to collaborate with the base,” she said. SD CEO is currently the only SBA Women’s Business Center in the state of South Dakota but is part of network of more than 110 women’s business centers nationwide.  This enables the SD CEO to connect those airmen and women with services available to them in their home states.

The SD CEO can also help women leaving the air force to take advantage of federal contracts available for women-owned businesses. Five percent of the federal contracts are mandated to these businesses and currently only 3.5 percent have, she said.  “We can work with women-owned businesses to understand the process and take advantage of the federal contracting money still available,” Merriman said. Currently there are 84 industries that qualify for federal contracting for women-owned businesses. “There are great opportunities out there.”

As an honorary commander, Merriman has watched the takeoff and loading of a B1-Bomber, and toured the new 55,000-square-foot deployment center. The center, which opened in August, streamlines the process for soldiers deploying so they can spend more time with families before leaving, she said.

 “It gives you more awareness and understanding of the critical mission of the base,” Merriman said of the honorary commander’s role.

As an honorary commander, Merriman’s responsibilities include getting acquainted with members of their appointed military unit, being involved with squadron events, and sharing their knowledge of the Air Force and the EAFB with the local community.

For more information about the 28th BW Honorary Commanders program, call the 28th BW Public Affairs Office at (605) 385-5056.

The SD CEO is partially funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The support given by the U.S. Small Business Administration through such funding does not constitute an expressed or implied endorsement of any of the components or participants’ opinions, products or services.   SD CEOoperates under Cooperative Agreement SBAHQ-11-W-0038.