Sergeant First Class Paul Gilliland and his companion Sue Roberts stationed in Vilsek, Germany, were honored by the State of South Dakota at the annual Governor’s Buffalo Roundup. Sergeant Gilliland is a 27-year active duty serviceman attached to the Army’s Second Cavalry Regiment. Armed Forces Radio (AFR) in conjunction with the State of South Dakota, the USO and United Airlines conducted a contest for all members of the armed forces. It was called ‘Home on the Range.’
Military contestants had to call into Armed Forces Radio to qualify. Sue says she got lucky. “I heard the announcement on AFR. I was listening in Vilsek, Germany where we are stationed. I dialed the number and was caller number one. The announcer said we are looking for caller number twelve. I kept calling and was about to hang up when my call was answered. They asked me to hold on. All I heard was music for a time then the announcer came on and I was told I am a qualifier. I had to pick a letter between A and K and a number between 1 and 12.”
The excitement was real as Sue Roberts and Sergeant Paul Gilliland recounted their experience that brought them from Germany to Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota as special guests of Governor Dennis Daugaard and his First Lady, Linda. Custer State Park is home to a free roaming herd of 1,500 bison. Every year park rangers and volunteer wranglers on horseback and in trucks round them up and push them into holding pens to be sorted, inoculated, branded, given veterinary care if necessary and, those not released back into the park, sold at auction. The buffalo roundup is a hoot and one of South Dakota’s highlights every fall.
“I said D 7. The announcer replied, ‘Let’s see if the buffalo is going to go to that number.’ They spun a wheel and all of a sudden I hear the announcer say, ‘Yeah, you are an instant qualifier. The contest went on for two more weeks. Paul called up the next day and qualified. He was H 4, number 5 caller,” Sue recounted the thrill of winning.
Being finalists was one step, the contest still required Paul and Sue to compete for the grand prize trip to South Dakota. “My alarm went of at 6 AM. I tuned in AFN Eagle Radio. I did a little prayer, ‘Let the buffalo go to D 7.’ There was a song on the radio. They were still playing music when the phone rang. The voice on the other end said, ‘This is AFR Italy. I’m with AFR Eagle and looking for Sue Roberts that qualified for Home on the Range Buffalo Roundup in South Dakota.’ I was too excited. The voice said, ‘Guess what? You are the grand prize winner.’ Then he passed me to the President of the USO and the sales manager of United Airlines.” Sue and Paul still couldn’t contain their excitement and great enthusiasm for the hosted week among South Dakotans. They were standing next to a large park truck that just carried them along with the roundup crew to herd bison into the corral area.
“She actually did it. I was out mowing the lawn. Sue ran out with the phone,” Paul smiled. It was a dream come true for the military couple. Their week started in Rapid City when United Airlines delivered them from Germany. South Dakota state officials picked them up at the Rapid City Airport. The pre-roundup events saw them hosted to highlights of the Black Hills. A trip to Mt. Rushmore and a special dinner with the Governor and invited VIPs. A visit to the top of Crazy Horse to see the progress on the yet uncompleted mountain sculpture, an overnight in Deadwood and real cowboy hospitality from Wall Drug in the Badlands to a new concept in Adoba eco-hotels in Rapid City.
The grand prize included a free rental car to take them from their home base to the Frankfort Airport, United Airlines complimentary round-trip tickets to Rapid City then a hosted week compliments of the South Dakota Department of Tourism.
Paul was born in Michigan, Sue in Virginia. Neither had ever been to South Dakota before. While everything was new, the highlight came when they joined the roundup crew in Custer State Park and got to roundup the bison herd.
“We loved it. It was the experience of a lifetime. It’s unbelievable,” Sue said. Paul and Sue were wearing special jackets Governor Daugaard presented participants along with roundup hats and an autographed license plate that gave vehicles entrance to the roundup.
“We had a blast. From Governor Daugaard to everyone we met, the hospitality and warmth they gave us was wonderful.” Sue beamed.
“Now we’re talking about coming back,” Paul added. Active duty military warmly welcomed and appreciated for their service to preserve America’s freedom.
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