RAPID CITY, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has paid a visit to the 48 National Guard members she dispatched to the southern border earlier this month, a trip drawing scrutiny for the exchange of a $1 million donation from a conservative donor.
But it's her office's news release describing the trip — and the inclusion of a personal pronoun — that is now raising hackles for critics back home, some of who've already decried the mission as a "mercenary" effort.
On Monday, July 26, Noem visited troops at the border near McAllen, Texas, to hear about their deployment and efforts to stem an influx of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. over the last few months.
But the evening news release from Noem's office stated that the governor "was briefed on the situation at the border by her South Dakota National Guard troops, as well as the Texas National Guard and Border Patrol."
It was the "her South Dakota National Guard troops" that set off an uproar online.
South Dakota Standard, a political blog frequently critical of Noem, asked if Noem was now a "feudal monarch?"
This isn't the first time Noem has described the National Guard in such personal terms.
At a conservative conference in Texas earlier this month, Noem told the audience, "I was the very first governor that when Texas and Arizona asked for help, that sent my National Guard troops down there to help."
A couple days later before the Tri-State Governors' Conference in South Sioux City, Nebraska, Noem again spoke of the deployment, saying, "My National Guard are down there."
"It's a term of endearment," wrote Fury. "Think of it like a coach saying, 'my players.'"
Moreover, Noem's office is not the first communications shop to use a singular pronoun before a South Dakota governor's review of troops.
In 2013, when Gov. Dennis Daugaard visited National Guard soldiers on a training exercise in the Black Hills, his office put out a news release saying the Republican governor, as commander-in-chief, "visited his Soldiers today."
But, Noem's "troops" language still sat uneasy with some critics, who see a mission marred by political overtones. Moreover, the "coach" language doesn't necessarily obligate using first-person, singular rhetoric, said House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, D-Sioux Falls.
"I guess I'm much more of a different management style," Smith said. "But as a coach, I speak about "our team," because even as a coach, I'm part of the team. I'm there to guide them to that victory or that, so be it, that loss."
A public relations professor from the University of South Dakota agreed.
"In general, and this is what I would tell my students, it is always best to use third person in a press release," Lori Costello, assistant professor of strategic communication at the University of South Dakota, wrote in an email.
Costello added that public officials have an obligation to their constituents, and "'our troops' rather than 'my troops,'" Costello said, would have "reflected that obligation."
Noem has announced two deployments to the nation's southern border in recent months. The first involved a volunteer-force of up to 50 troops for up to two months and, according to the governor's own public statements, was aided by a charitable donation to state coffers from Tennessee billionaire Willis Johnson.
The second, which has yet to be sent, is part of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security-led effort and involves 125 members deployed for up to a year.
Federal officials say the number of apprehensions of persons illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico has topped 1 million in 2021, the first time to hit this mark since 2006.