UPDATE: Private donor paying for S.D. Nat’l. Guard’s mission to border

File photo of a platoon of South Dakota National Guard troops in formation.
File photo of a platoon of South Dakota National Guard troops in formation.(South Dakota National Guard)
Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 10:36 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - UPDATE: A Tennessee-based nonprofit made a donation to pay for the South Dakota National Guard’s mission to the U.S-Mexico border, officials say.

The deployment is being paid for by a private donation from the Willis and Reba Johnson’s Foundation, according to Gov. Kristi Noem’s spokesperson Ian Fury.

Foundation President Willis Johnson confirmed the donation to Dakota News Now.

Johnson, a Vietnam veteran, said he viewed it as a way to “give back to America.” He said he believes what President Joe Biden is doing in regards to migrant crossing at the southern border is “wrong.”

Johnson said he reached out to Noem about the donation, saying he was impressed with how the governor has stood up to Biden in the past.

“I think all governors should stand up for their state,” Johnson said. “Just because she’s up in South Dakota, doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect the whole United States. We are all one people, and we should protect our country.”

Johnson would not disclose the amount of the donation. He said he has not donated to pay for any other National Guard deployments.

According to Pro Publica data, the Willis and Reba Johnson’s Foundation donated $1.8 million in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. A bulk of the donations went toward Christian ministries and health foundations.

“Governor Noem welcomes any such donations to help alleviate the cost of South Dakota taxpayers,” Fury told Dakota News Now. He also said South Dakota law allows the governor to accept donations that are in the “best interests” of the state.

Noem earlier announced she will send up to 50 National Guard troops to Texas to help deal with a recent surge in unauthorized border crossings.

“The Biden Administration has failed in the most basic duty of the federal government: keeping the American people safe,” Noem said in a press release. “The border is a national security crisis that requires the kind of sustained response only the National Guard can provide. We should not be making our own communities less safe by sending our police or Highway Patrol to fix a long-term problem President Biden’s Administration seems unable or unwilling to solve. My message to Texas is this: help is on the way.”

Fury says all troops taking part in the deployment volunteered for the mission.

The move by Noem warranted swift backlash from state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“It seems to me like our National Guard soldiers are hired mercenaries and whoever is willing to pay a certain amount of money, they are going to be sent off to go and do... Who knows what,” said State Rep. Aaron Aylward (R-Harrisburg).

“I have reached out to our Legislative Research Council (LRC) first to see if this has ever happened before, and also if this is even legal,” said State Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls). “I think this sets a dangerous precedent for a governor to accept a donation for a wealthy person in Tennessee, and respond with the National Guard. I am really concerned.”

Original story

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem says she will join a growing list of Republican governors sending law enforcement officers to the U.S. border with Mexico.

Noem’s announcement that she will send up to 50 South Dakota National Guard troops to Texas comes as the GOP ramps up a political fight with President Joe Biden over border security. The initial deployment to the border will last for between 30 and 60 days.

The issue has drawn in a host of prominent GOP figures. Former President Donald Trump was expected to travel to the border this week. The latest fight was initiated when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this month announced plans to build more barriers along the border.

Noem first announced the deployment in a tweet Monday evening, then issued a formal announcement Tuesday morning.

A press release from the state said for operational security reasons, specific names of units, number of members, and mission specifics will not be released.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)