CAMP RIPLEY, MINN. (07/14/2012)(readMedia)-- Approximately 60 distinguished visitors from all around Illinois flew in from Aurora and Peoria July 12 to pay a visit to the Soldiers participating in the Army National Guard's eXportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) program; observing and experiencing their training first hand.
The diverse group consisted of civilians and prior service, white collar and blue collar, but the common thread that brought them all together was their admiration and appreciation for the Soldiers that serve them.
"Our mission is to serve those that serve and that's those who wear the uniform and their families," said John May of Chicago, chairman and chief executive officer of USO of Illinois. "Today gave me a first-hand opportunity to see what those in uniform are doing. It was really a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget. Just meeting the people, seeing the level of dedication, seeing how they slip out of a civilian role, into a military role so easily and effectively; every moment was a highlight."
The distinguished visitors followed an action-packed itinerary. After arriving at Camp Ripley on C-130 airplanes they attended an introductory gathering, observed the launching of an unmanned aerial vehicle and then were whisked away to meet the Soldiers in the field on Blackhawk helicopters.
They went on to connect and converse with Soldiers in the field and then witnessed Soldiers moving in a combat-simulated field training exercise. The day came to a close after Chinooks transported the distinguished visitors to the tactical operations center where they experienced a state of the art battlefield operation.
Paul Brian of Burr Ridge, radio personality at WLS radio in Chicago, served for three years toward the end of the Vietnam conflict and appreciated the ongoing sacrifice that those in the Illinois Army National Guard and all branches of the military make to provide freedom.
"The sacrifice a Soldier makes is apparent every day," said Brian. "There's nothing that we do in this country, or have done since the inception of this country, that has not been made possible by men and women wearing our uniform. And for us to not support them, the people who are making our freedom possible is absolutely unconscionable to me."
Although many of the distinguished guests expressed their gratitude during their visit, the Soldiers they visited were equally honored by their presence.
"I respect and admire all of them," said Sgt. 1st Class Stacey A. Long of Champaign, planning, training, and operations non commissioned officer. "They are an example to emulate. The civilian population will come to a better understanding and a better appreciation for what we do because those same people are going to go out into the community and will talk about what they saw. I have a great deal of respect for that because they didn't have to do that."
Photo 1: Photo by Sgt. Jesse Houk, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ Distinguished visitors learn infantry maneuvers from Capt. Nick P. Camardo of Rockford, commander, Company A, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment and then see them executed in real-time. The visitors observed Soldiers in several scenarios in the Army National Guard's eXportable Combat Training Capability program at Camp Ripley, Minn.
Photo 2: Photo by Sgt. Jesse Houk, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ Distinguished visitors experience the launch of an unmanned aerial vehicle at Camp Ripley, Minn. The group was invited connect with Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers.
Photo 3: Photo by Sgt. Jesse Houk, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ Suzanne Ravlin of Dixon, from Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital and Tom Bushmann of Dixon, from VFW Post 540, both distinguished visitors, are greeted by Brig. Gen. Johnny R. Miller of Tamms, assistant adjutant general of the Illinois Army National Guard, and Command Sgt. Maj. Mark W. Bowman of Plainfield, Illinois Army National Guard land forces sergeant major. The two were flown to experience Soldiers training in Army National Guard's eXportable Combat Training Capability program at Camp Ripley, Minn.