INDIANAPOLIS — In his State of the State speech devoted mostly to his legislative priorities, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence paused to praise the work of emergency responders called into action during last week’s artic storm.
In addition to recognizing police, fire, medical personnel and highway workers who braved heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures, the governor singled out the state’s citizen-soldiers who belong to the state’s National Guard. They were deployed as part of the Highway Assistance Teams to rescue stranded Hoosiers and assist local first responders in the midst of the storm.
Staff Sgt. Nicholas Leis of Terre Haute, a member of the 113th Air Support Operations Squadron, 181st Intelligence Wing, found himself in the gallery of the House chamber Tuesday night at Pence’s invitation, representing the Air National Guard. When Pence called out his name, Leis smiled and blushed.
A little over a year ago, Leis was in the 110-degree heat of Afghanistan. Early last week, he was traveling with 10 members of squad on the roads of Putnam County, where the wind chill dipped deep into subzero temperatures.
“It was pretty cold, but the training we get and the clothing were given was plenty to handle that,” said Leis. It was his first stateside mission since returning from Afghanistan.
“It was an honor to serve my county in Afghanistan, but just as much of honor to come back and serve the citizens of the state that I’m a member of,” Leis said.
Leis was one of six Hoosiers that Pence recognized in his Tuesday speech. In addition to Leis, he recognized two other National Guard members representing their fellow guardsmen, Sgt. First Class Malika Dowdell of the 38th Infantry Division in Indianapolis and Sgt. Marc Muehling of the 2-150th Field Artillery Battalion in Bloomington.
Pence also recognized three other Hoosiers in the audience for his speech, citing them as inspiration for some parts of his legislative agenda. In talking about his pledge to expand and improve adoption in Indiana, he introduced Karen Sauer, a single mother in Indianapolis who adopted two children, Neven and Dusten, after they’d spent years in foster care.