2023 MMAF Fundraising Dinner

Friday, September 15, 2023 Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport Hilton - Bloomington, MN

Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund hosted its annual fundraising dinner on Friday, September 15 at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport Hilton in Bloomington. MMAF was honored to welcome keynote speaker, General Paul Nakasone, a native of White Bear Lake and current Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, Director of the National Security Agency, and Chief of Central Security Service. Joining General Nakasone was Air Force Major Katie Lunning of the 133rd Airlift Wing in Minneapolis. The evening’s speakers joined nearly 450 MMAF supporters who were excited to gather to raise money for Minnesota’s service members and their families. Efforts from the evening raised nearly $500,000.


The evening’s program was emceed by Kevin Doran of KSTP 5-Eyewitness News. The Marine Wing Support Squadron 471 Color Guard posted colors and the Ensemble Singers from VocalEssence, conducted by Philip Brunelle, performed patriotic songs throughout the program. Air Force Chaplain (Colonel) Daniel Pulju provided an invocation and took a moment to recognize those who have given their lives in service to the country and those who are still missing in action.


MMAF Chair Roger Sit updated guests on the progress of the organization – more than $13.3 million dollars has been awarded to over 19,700 Minnesota service members since inception in 2005. MMAF grant recipients are found in over 800 municipalities throughout the state, covering every corner of Minnesota. Roger also noted that there is strong grassroots support of our mission of “thanks” since donations to MMAF come from all over the state of Minnesota.  MMAF continues to proactively search for service members who are eligible for our grants and will continue to thank and support our service members as new deployments occur.


As dinner concluded, guests were introduced to Major Katie Lunning, the Chief Nurse for the 133rd Medical Group of the Minnesota Air National Guard. Major Lunning deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar from July to October 2021, leaving her husband and young daughter at home for a deployment she thought would be routine. In early August 2021, as the Taliban moved toward Kabul, Major Lunning and her Critical Care Team were told to provide medical support at Al Udeid. Major Lunning and her team flew in and out of Afghanistan numerous times during the final days of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and her team was an integral part in the evacuation of U.S. Marines and Afghan civilians who were injured in the suicide bombing on August 26, 2021. When word came that the final flight out of Afghanistan would occur earlier than originally planned, it was Major Lunning’s team that was tasked with the dangerous job of circling back and ensuring that all injured service members were treated and evacuated. Major Lunning’s team was on the very last flight out of the country. She was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for her aerial achievement in the evacuation.


General Joe Votel, the former Commander of U.S. Central Command and past MMAF fundraising dinner speaker, then took the stage to give a heartfelt and very personal introduction to the keynote speaker for the evening, General Paul Nakasone. General Nakasone is a native of White Bear Lake and a graduate of St. John’s University. General Nakasone spoke about his role as the Commander of U.S. Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency. The military and civilian agencies work in tandem with other government agencies in their mission to combat cybersecurity threats by foreign adversaries set on shaking up the globe. General Nakasone noted how technological advances have created an ever-expanding domain in which cyber professionals must operate. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency make America safer and those men and women working to keep the country safe are some of the best trained personnel in the world.


General Nakasone then recognized Chief Master Sergeant Bryan Neuman, a Minnesota native whose family has a history of service dating back to the civil war, as one of those service members who embodies the characteristics of the state of Minnesota and Cyber Command. Finally, General Nakasone asked his father, Edwin, to stand up and be recognized for his service as a Japanese translator during World War II, having trained at Fort Snelling as part of part of the translator program.


Roger Sit presented General Nakasone with a desk award from MMAF in appreciation for taking the time to travel to Minnesota to advocate for the organization. The evening concluded with a beautiful performance by VocalEssence of God Bless America.


We appreciate those individuals and corporations who gave so generously to this primary fundraiser for MMAF. One hundred percent of funds raised at the dinner go directly to Minnesota troops and their families thanks to underwriting by the main event sponsor, Sit Investment Associates.