The fence around Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota keeps the bad guys out, Lorie Vega says, “but unfortunately it keeps the good guys in and the good guys out, too. It keeps our airmen in and keeps out people that really want to connect with us. It’s hard to break that barrier, so I try to be the barrier breaker.”

Vega is deputy director of 28th Mission Support Group, 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth, tasked as the installation’s communication outreach lead.

“My business card is probably all over western South Dakota, because I get phone calls from random people,” she says. “’Oh, I saw your business card,’ which is great.”

To catch those people’s eyes, Vega designs and buys her own business cards that are “intentionally very colorful and very unique. On the back, it says, ‘Connect with Ellsworth, become a community partner.’ It’s got my contact information, and it says all the stuff I do.”

It’s an innovative approach, and the networking pays off.

She’s able to connect military families looking for jobs. When some airmen needed to move to COVID-19 quarantine dorms, it was Vega who made sure they had internet access by coordinating local partners and other base officials. And when the base opened its new innovation hub, RaiderWerks, Vega went to a local internet provider to bring high-speed internet access to the center at no cost to the base.

Thanks to Vega, the base also has partnerships with more than 15 universities across the country, including the two local universities: South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and Black Hill State University.

Vega typically puts in about 11 hours a day in addition to evening meetings for the long list of local boards she serves on, but she says it’s worth it, because she loves what she does.

“Partnership is key to making sure that not only we take care of our airmen better, we get the airmen involved in the community, but also we say thank you to our community for supporting us,” she says. “Gratitude is a big part of that.”

Final of a 10-part series honoring ADC’s Defense Community Champions

Vega, right, with ADC Board Member Diane Rath. ADC photo by Will Noonan