2 Paratroopers in Afghanistan Receive Keys to Harley Bikes

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Two deployed 82nd Airborne Division Paratroopers got a nice surprise when they opened up boxes from Operation Gratitude and each found a set of keys to a new motorcycle in his care package.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. William Fullerton, a squad leader with Company B, 82nd Division Special Troops Battalion, and U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Herne, an infantryman with Company A, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, were lucky recipients of the Operation Gratitude Milestone 500,000th Twin Care Packages shipped on December 19, 2009.  A new Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle will be waiting for each Paratrooper upon his redeployment from Afghanistan.

Fullerton 1

"I'm still in shock from winning, so I'm a little lost for words. It's the coolest thing I've received in my life," said Herne, a native of Addison, N.Y.


Herne 1

Fullerton, a native of Quincy, Mass., was happy because his wife likes motorcycles, so it will be a nice treat for her.

The Paratroopers weren't the only ones glad they'd received Harley's, their leadership was pleased to see their Paratroopers get such a generous care package.


"Sergeant Herne is a very dedicated soldier," said 1st Sgt. Michael Black, Herne's company first sergeant.  "When asked to perform a task he goes above and beyond his duty and always gives 110 percent. All the other Paratroopers look up to him for guidance and mentorship. The day he came off of leave he volunteered to go on mission. That is the type of Paratrooper Sgt. Herne is."

Fullerton's first sergeant echoed similar sentiments.

"He's one of my strongest (noncomissioned officers), an outstanding leader, very deserving of the motorcycle," said 1st Sgt. John S. Woodson, a Charleston, W. Va., native and Fullerton's first sergeant at Co. B.

Not only was Woodson happy that Fullerton won a motorcycle, but he also thought the gesture showed there was a lot of outside support for Servicemembers who are deployed. The Milestone 500,000th packages were sent by Operation Gratitude along with 1,800 additional care packages personally addressed to Soldiers of

the Task Force.

Herne 2The two motorcycles were purchased by Mr. Don Allen, the CEO of American Veteran Traveling Tribute and Mr. Lee Rawcliffe, the CEO and owner of Sands Resorts, as a way of rewarding two Soldiers for all their service.

"Mr. Allen and Mr. Rawcliffe wanted to show their appreciation by asking Operation Gratitude to randomly select two Soldiers to receive their gift," said retired Army Col. Melinda S. Woodhurst, the director of operations for AVTT.

Fullerton 2

"Staff Sgt. Fullerton and Sgt. Herne are wonderful representatives of the U.S. Military and we are delighted that they received the Milestone 500,000th Care Packages," said Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude.   "The volunteers and supporters of Operation Gratitude are also honored to send expressions of respect and appreciation to all of our heroic warriors on the front lines of freedom."

As far as future plans go for the most recent recipient of the motorcycle, when Herne redeploys from Afghanistan he's looking forward to learning how to actually ride a motorcycle.                                                                                     

"I've ridden a lot of dirt bikes, so it should be the same," said Herne, who ironically was saving his money to buy a motorcycle when he returned from Afghanistan.

About Operation Gratitude
Operation Gratitude (www.OperationGratitude.com ) is the 501 (c) (3) non-profit, volunteer organization that annually sends 100,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individual U.S. Service Members deployed in hostile regions.  Our mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member's face and express to all Armed Forces the appreciation and support of the American people. Each package contains donated product valued at ~$100 and costs the organization $11 to assemble and ship.  Since it's inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude has sent more than 515,000 care packages to American Military overseas.

Navy Seaman Andrew Alvarado, a native of Muscatine, is currently deployed aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) off the coast of Haiti.

USS Carter Hall is presently conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake. USS Carter Hall, with its compliment of helicopters, hospital facilities and an embark of Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU 22), make them well-suited for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response missions.

Seaman Alvarado is a Ship's Serviceman responsible for inventory of ship's store and contributing to the morale and well-being of the crew. Seaman Alvarado also participated in community relations projects in Haiti. His motherCruz Martinez resides in Muscatine.

ANNAPOLIS, Md.–Applications are being accepted Feb. 1 through March 31 for the United States Naval Academy Summer Seminar (NASS) 2010.  NASS is designed for students who will have just completed their junior year of high school in the summer of 2010.  This program is a fast-paced, six-day experience for high-achievers who may be interested in pursuing an appointment to one of the nation's service academies and serving as a military officer after graduation.  NASS is held in three sessions: June 5-10, June 12-17 and June 19-24.

Summer Seminar introduces students to the opportunities at the Naval Academy where academics, athletics, and professional training play equally important roles in developing our nation's leaders.  Students will live in the dormitory, Bancroft Hall, eat in the dining facility, King Hall; participate in academic and leadership workshops; and experience a variety of other activities at the academy.  Students will have an opportunity to see first-hand what the academy has to offer through its exceptional academic, athletic, extracurricular activities and leadership training programs.

The academy's current students, known as midshipmen, run the Summer Seminar training with oversight by active duty Navy and Marine Corps officers.  Over 2,250 students from around the U.S. attend this rigorous program each year.

According to Naval Academy Summer Seminar officer-in-charge, Lt. John Meise, "If you are a student who wants a summer challenge with the opportunity to sample university-level academics at a first-rate engineering school, the Summer Seminar program will let you discover how the Naval Academy can help you achieve your goals, and give you a jump start on the admissions process."

By applying to the 2010 Summer Seminar, students are also applying for admission to the Naval Academy class of 2015.  There is no need to submit a preliminary application when it becomes available on April 1 for students desiring to apply for admission to USNA.

Students with questions about NASS and the application process should call 410-293-1549 or visit www.usna.edu/admissions. The deadline for applications is March 31, 2010.

For more information about Naval Academy athletics, extracurricular activities and other general information, visit www.usna.edu.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today announced that $439,776 in additional funding will be coming to Iowa for the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) this year.  SCSEP is a community service and work-based training program for older workers.  It provides part-time, community service-based job training for unemployed low-income persons 55 or older.  Through this program, older workers have access to the SCSEP services as well as other employment assistance available through the workforce investment system.

"The unemployment rate for Americans age 55 and over is at a historic high, and this is particularly true for those with lower or outdated skills.  I am pleased that today's funding will provide the resources and training to give older Iowans the tools they need get back to work and make a good living," said Harkin. "We must continue to support programs that help all Americans find good jobs during these tough economic times."

Today's funding comes from the U.S. Department of Labor.  Harkin is Chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds labor initiatives.

Additionally, Iowa may stand to receive more support than the award announced today because national grantees also provide services in the state.

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today announced that Iowa has received a $2,248,320 competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs through the State Veterans Home Grant program.  The program provides up to 65 percent of the cost of construction or acquisition of state nursing homes or domiciliaries or for renovations to existing state veterans homes.

"The Iowa Veterans Home improves the quality of life for those who have proudly served our country," Grassley said.  "These funds will expand the facilities for our veterans and help the Iowa Veterans Home continue to provide the services our veterans need in a way both deserving and honoring of our nation's finest."

The money will help expand the dining and activity room at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown.

The Iowa Veterans Home is one of the three largest state-owned facilities for veterans in the country.  It is home to more than 720 residents.


WASHINGTON --- Senator Chuck Grassley today joined Senator Mary Landrieu and other senators to highlight their support for short- and long-term efforts to aid orphans in Haiti.

During a news conference on Capitol Hill, the bipartisan group emphasized their commitment to continued oversight of the federal agencies responsible for completing already approved adoptions in Haiti and to facilitate adoptions for children orphaned by this month's earthquake in Haiti.  Click here to view the video of Senator Grassley's statement at the news conference.

Last week, Grassley, Landrieu and others wrote to top U.S. government officials to urge more effective collaboration in the effort to evacuate the 600 to 700 orphans in Haiti who have adoptive families waiting for them in the United States.  Their letter said that a lot of the chaos that surrounds efforts to get these orphans safely to their adoptive families in the United States is a direct result of a lack of logistical inter-agency coordination, a lack of communication to the public and ad-hoc processing of travel documents by the U.S. Embassy.  Grassley, Landrieu and the others asked for a commitment that these orphans be safely and efficiently evacuated within the next ten days.

Today, Grassley said that the stories of children from Haiti joining adoptive parents in the United States and receiving the love and care they need "are heartwarming and inspirational.  There are many more children in Haiti who need that kind of help and everything possible should be done to facilitate adoptions and match true orphans with families who can give them a home.  It will take extensive cooperation with the government of Haiti and strong leadership on the part of the U.S. government."

Grassley is a member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, which Landrieu co-chairs.  Last month, the two senators established a Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.  They have worked together and won passage of legislation to help more children move from foster care to permanent, loving homes.

Cash Dash searches in Rock Island County

Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias' office wants to return lost, forgotten and abandoned funds to Rock Island County residents.

A representative from Giannoulias' office will conduct Cash Dash searches on the state's online database from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on January 29th at Moline City Hall, 619 - 16th Street.

The Cash Dash program reunites Illinois residents with their lost or forgotten wealth, also known as "unclaimed property." This wealth can be anything from long-lost bank accounts to entire estates that never made it to their rightful owner.

The Treasurer's office is holding $1.4 billion in unclaimed property for 10.2 million residents and businesses. Of that amount, more than $9.6 million belongs to Rock Island County residents and businesses. The Cash Dash aims to give it all back.

"Cash Dash is free and easy to use, and the chance that you are on the list is greater than you migh think," Giannoulias said. "If you find your name, you could end up with some extra spending money."

For more information or to conduct your own private online search, visit www.treasurer.il.gov and follow the Cash Dash link.

On Saturday, January 30th at 1:30 p.m. the Wapsi River Environmental Education Center will host recycled card crafts program. Did you know that during the holiday season we generate 5 million tons of trash? Recycling is the key! By attending this fun afternoon program, participants will learn to make gift boxes, decorative tags, ornaments and much more from recycled holiday cards. Scissors, glue, rulers and pencils will be provided; participants need only to bring cards. Pre-registration is required by calling (563) 328-3286. BYOM - bring your own mug!

The Wapsi River Environmental Education Center can be found 6 miles south of Wheatland or 1 mile northwest of Dixon, Iowa, by taking County Road Y4E. Then turn north at 52nd Avenue and follow the signs for about 1 mile.

Encourages Taxpayers to Take Advantage of Earned Income Tax Credit, Avoid Costly Refund Anticipation Loans

MARION - January 21, 2010. Governor Quinn today announced partnerships that will give Illinois' working families access to free tax preparation assistance, including help with filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The Governor encouraged taxpayers to utilize the free assistance as they file their income tax returns, receive the tax credits they've earned, and avoid refund anticipation loans that can consume big chunks of hard-earned refund checks.

"The Earned Income Tax Credit is the best pro-job, pro-family and anti-poverty tax relief ever devised, and every eligible family in Illinois should receive the full credit," said Governor Quinn. "I am proud to announce free tax preparation assistance to help Illinois' working families get their full refunds quickly and painlessly."

State partnerships with the Center for Economic Progress' Tax Counseling Project and Ladder Up (formerly the Tax Assistance Program) will offer free tax preparation assistance and e-filing for families across Illinois. Services are free for families who earned under $50,000 and individuals who made less than $25,000.

Through the partnerships, volunteer tax counselors will provide free tax assistance and counseling at 55 sites throughout the state. Most sites will provide services from January 23 through April 15. Governor Quinn made today's announcement at the Man-Tra-Con Corporation in Marion, which will serve as a Center for Economic Progress site. (A full list of locations is attached.)

Taxpayers can walk in to any of the locations, without an appointment, and work with trained volunteers who will help fill out their returns and make sure they file for all the credits, deductions and other benefits to which they're entitled. Last year the Tax Counseling Project completed more than 33,300 tax returns with refunds totaling $52.2 million. Ladder Up helped with more than 9,000 returns totaling $15.5 million in refunds.

Families raising two or more children in their home can get up to $5,028 from the federal EITC with earnings of less than $45,295 (married, filing jointly). Illinois residents who claim the federal EITC may also receive the state EITC, which can save them up to $283.

Governor Quinn also encouraged residents to avoid the high cost of refund anticipation loans (RALs) offered by commercial tax preparation companies. According to a 2009 study by the Consumer Federation of America and the National Consumer Law Center, the price of a RAL for a typical loan of $3,000 can range from $62 to $110. In Illinois, the interest rate on a RAL can range from 40 percent for a loan of $9,999 to over 700 percent for a loan of $200.

Most Illinois taxpayers can file state taxes for free at www.tax.illinois.gov and receive a refund in about a week. Additionally, many can file their federal taxes online for free as well. Information about filing federal taxes online can be found at www.irs.gov.


DAVENPORT - What do the Adler Planetarium, the Seattle Museum of Flight, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, and the Putnam Museum all have in common? As of January 8, all of these institutions are part of the prestigious Smithsonian Affiliates program. The Putnam joins 159 other museums and cultural institutions across the United States in this partnership that was begun in 1996 by the Smithsonian to share America's artistic, scientific and historic heritage. Aaron Glavas, national outreach manager for the Smithsonian, was on hand Thursday to announce the partnership with the Putnam Museum.

"The Putnam is very honored to be selected by the Smithsonian Institute as an Affiliate," said Kim Findlay, president/CEO of the Putnam Museum. "This partnership allows us to bring national treasures from the Smithsonian to our community to create even more impactful exhibits and programs to the people of the Quad-Cities."

Smithsonian Affiliations is a unique outreach initiative that allows emerging and established museums to obtain Smithsonian collections for a prolonged period. The program's mission is to make the extensive Smithsonian collection more accessible to American people by sharing artifacts and other resources with museums and cultural institutions across the country. The Putnam Museum underwent a proposal process in 2009 and was officially approved as a Smithsonian Affiliate this month. The two nearest Affiliates are in Dubuque, Iowa, and Dixon, Illinois.

As an affiliate, the Putnam will have the privilege of securing long-term artifact loans from various Smithsonian Institution Museums to enhance our future exhibits and programs. In addition to the long-term loans, the Affiliate program also gives the Putnam the opportunity to incorporate outreach services they offer - from curriculum development in local schools to lectures, workshops, study tours and other programs.

The Putnam anticipates its first long-term loan will arrive in Spring 2011, and will be space-related to enhance a new discovery exhibition space. In the interim, six of the Putnam's most unique and relevant artifacts will be on display, including Miss Hokkaido (Japanese Friendship doll); a Winter Count from the 1700s (Native American hide tracking winters); slave shackles; an Abraham Lincoln political banner; Bix's coronet; and the original Blackhawk War Treaty.

The Putnam Museum and IMAX ®Theatre is a 501(c) (3) educational corporation, providing the greater Quad Cities region with quality of life experiences since 1867. The Museum is the primary repository for the area's unique treasures - over 170,000 artifacts and specimens that tell the stories of the region, the people who live here and their connections to the world. The IMAX® Theatre is equipped with 270-sloped, stadium-style seats; a screen six stories high and seven stories wide; a six-speaker, 10,000 watt digital sound system; and Academy Award®-winning IMAX® projection system. Visit the Putnam Museum and IMAX® Theatre at www.putnam.org. IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.