PRINCETON, IL (10/26/2010)(readMedia)-- He served in Vietnam and several other operations, including tours in Iraq and Europe. That is only part of the highlight reel for a 59-year-old Princeton man, who has dedicated his career to protecting his community and his country. After 30 years as a member of the Illinois Army National Guard (ILARNG), Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Root is retiring from the ILARNG.
"The idea of being able to protect and serve our nation has always been a priority to me," said Root who wanted to be a Soldier since he was a young boy. "There is no greater call then to serve our great country."
Root, a member of the 129th Regional Training Institute in Springfield, will officially retire from the ILARNG Nov. 29. Before beginning his career in the National Guard, Root served three years in the active-duty Army. With more than three decades of service, Root served in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Operation Desert Spring, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and helped the citizens of Illinois during several floods.
"My most memorable moment was in Iraq in 2007 when I was able to pin captain bars on my son Jason, who was deployed with the 25th Infantry Division," Root said.
Jason is one of four sons Root has raised with his wife Laura. Three of them joined the military and are currently serving in the active-duty Army. Root has been married to Laura, the senior pastor at New Hope Church of the Nazarene in Princeton, for 11 years and admits the numerous deployments took a toll on his family.
"Deployments are hard on a marriage and children," Root said. "No matter how strong you may think you are, or your wife and kids are, absence is hard on everyone. The stronger your relationship, the easier the deployment."
Root has lived a life dedicated to his country and his community. He has served in civilian law enforcement for 27 years, including 17 years with the Rock Falls Police Department and the last 10 years as Chief of Police for the City of Princeton.
"The knowledge and experience I have gained over the years from the military has impacted the way I do my day-to-day business as police chief," Root said. "Both of my careers compliment each other in many ways. This has not only benefitted me, but also the community in which I work and live."
Over the past 10 years Root's impact has been noticed by many throughout Bureau County and northern Illinois.
John Thompson of Ladd has worked with Root since Thompson was elected Bureau County Sheriff in 2002. Thompson said Root has helped make the area safer and the community is fortunate to have Root as a part of the law enforcement community.
"Tom exemplifies the term professional," Thompson said. "His constant effort to support and participate in our community is an insufficient testimony to what he provides in values, guidance and knowledge. His leadership skills, whether developed in the military or on the street, have made a wonderful impact on law enforcement within this community."
Jack Scott is a long-time Princeton resident who has seen what Root has done for the community since he started as the police chief in 2000. Scott said he has upgraded the police department's infrastructure, expanded the department, gave officers more training and increased the drug enforcement in the community.
"I would describe Tom as a class act," Scott said. "He is smart and knows how to get the job done. The guy is a workaholic who cares about his community and his country. He is a true Soldier."
Root's love for his country and pride in his community can be seen when you drive past Princeton on Interstate 80. Root and Scott were co-chairmen for the "Flags of Freedom," which are four huge American flags on the four corners of the intersection of Interstate 80 and Illinois Route 26.
"These flags are a magnificent sight," Root said. "Each flag is 1800 square feet and represents the patriotism of our community and support to our military."
To put the flags in perspective, each flag is bigger than the floor plan of most homes in Princeton. A committee of private citizens raised approximately $250,000 to display these flags, which have become a Bureau County landmark.
With more than 30 years of service, Root has had a positive influence on many Soldiers. Approximately 10 years after he left the active-duty Army, Root joined Troop E, 106th Cavalry in Rock Falls. Maj. Gen. Dennis Celletti of Springfield, the Assistant Adjutant General for the Illinois National Guard, was a captain and commander of the unit at that time.
"I could tell when Tom joined the unit he had potential to be a strong Soldier," Celletti said. "There was a lot of fire and determination in his eyes and you knew he would someday evolve to be one of the strongest leaders the Illinois National Guard has. I am proud to have served alongside such a great Soldier. He has had a positive impact on more lives than he will ever know."
Looking back on his time in uniform, Root's advice for younger Soldiers is simple.
"Be proud to be a Soldier every day," Root said. "Be proud to put on the uniform. Be proud to be part of the greatest Army in the world."