The Duluth-based, 148th Fighter Wing has been named one of the top Air National Guard units in the country.

At its annual awards ceremony Sunday afternoon at the DECC, the 148th celebrated the honor, a National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) Flying Unit Plaque.

More than 1,000 Bulldogs and their families gathered for that presentation, other awards, a retirement ceremony and a welcome home from all the airmen deployed of the last year. The largest group, about 300 airmen, deployed to Osan Air Base in South Korea for a security mission.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) commended the efforts of those airmen and other individuals who deployed to Croatia and Kuwait in 2016.

"You went to South Korea at one of the hottest times in recent history and you did everything you could to deter regional security threat," Klobuchar said. "Through it all, your patriotism has never faltered, you serve, you sacrifice and you strive to be the best, and you are. And that's the 148th way. We are so proud of you."

All the while, the 148th also worked to maintain a Voluntary Protection Program "Star" rating. The OSHA program recognizes employers who provide a safe working environment for all employees. Brig. Gen. David Hamlar, the Assistant Adjutant General for Air with the Minnesota National Guard praised the 148th's accomplishments.

"You looked at re-certifications that you've accomplished, the flyovers that you do willingly, the community involvement that you have... it's just truly outstanding how you're able to accomplish the mission," Brig. Gen. Hamlar said.

In her remarks, Klobuchar promised to continue working with wing leadership to bring a new type of aircraft to the fleet: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"The 148th has a modern base, that's what we've explained to the secretary of the Air Force, and we have the community support and we want to get those planes," Klobuchar said.

While deployed some of the Wing's own had difficulties getting VA services, and Klobuchar also told the 148th she would make improvements a priority.

"We continue to work on VA issues," Klobuchar said. "I figure there wasn't a line when you signed up and there shouldn't be a waiting line to get health care when you're here."

Commander Col. Jon Safstrom said the Wing also continues to be an economic driver in the region as the 7th largest employer and an estimated $80 million impact.