STURGIS, S.D. — Anyone who’s served in a branch of the military can tell you – it’s nothing like the movies. Films like “Full Metal Jacket” or “Platoon” take poetic license and dramatize the lives of service members, making life in the military look miserable. Movies like “Top Gun” keep viewers on the edge of their seats, taking moviegoers on a thrill ride through the skies in a supersonic military jet.
In 1988, Bryan Hencke was attending college, when some bad influences in his hometown of Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin made him re-think his future plans.
“I did a couple of years of college right after high school and I was working on a two-year degree,” Hencke said. “I decided that staying in my hometown would probably lead me to some bad decisions. “Top Gun” was the movie of the time so I went to join the Navy but the Navy recruiter was out of his office, so the Air Force recruiter came out of his office and said he was going to tell me all about the Navy. About 45 minutes later I walked out with an Air Force contract.”
Bryan joined the Air Force as a Communication Navigation and Mission System specialist, which he said is basically a B-1 aircraft radar and radio technician. That military specialty eventually brought him to Ellsworth AFB, where in 1991, he married Sturgis Brown High School graduate Tammy Roth, which made him think more long term.
“My goal was to do four years and get out,” Hencke added. “I ended up enjoying my service and did 20 years.”
Hencke retired from Ellsworth AFB in 2008 and jumped right into his second career as a banker.
“Got out of the Air Force on a Friday and started banking on a Monday,” Hencke said.
Today, Bryan is the president of First Interstate Bank in Sturgis, 15 years into his civilian career in banking. He’s a board member of the Matthews Opera House in Spearfish and will be the treasurer and a board member of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum. Bryan and Tammy have three kids and six grandkids with one on the way. Bryan had an outstanding military career, deploying overseas in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and he’s held several special duty assignments during his 20-year Air Force career. On Veterans Day, he’s focused more on the service and sacrifice of others.
“I don’t really look at my career as much as I look at our heroes today and the heroes that served alongside of me,” he said. “I think I did what I could to support my country but there’s a lot of others that continue to sacrifice today and some have given the ultimate sacrifice. On Veterans Day I reflect more on their service that I do on my own service.”
Humility is a strong character trait of all the Veterans in our community. Bryan Hencke, Sandy Baldwin, Bud Kopp and Gregg Harrington are stellar examples of service to county and service to our community here in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We are lucky to have them living among us! Happy Veterans Day to all Veterans and their families.