More than 100 family members of fallen servicemembers gather in Springfield May 5 to celebrate the life of their hero; By Spc. Jason Dorsey, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

SPRINGFIELD, IL (05/07/2012)(readMedia)-- Two Soldiers carefully and quietly placed a wreath between the American and Illinois state flags during a moment of silence, while families of fallen servicemembers reflected on memories of their loved ones.

"We are not here for a solemn remembrance, however, today is celebration of life," said Maj. Gen. William Enyart of Belleville, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard.

The Illinois Connections for Families of the Fallen (ICFF), hosted the third annual "Connections in the Capital City: Bringing Together Families of the Fallen," on the campus of Lincoln Land Community College May 5. ICFF encompasses numerous organizations, including the Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) program.

"ICFF is a collaborative effort of representatives of over 25 different local and national agencies, dedicated to helping Illinois families of fallen servicemembers," said Bob Gillmore of Petersburg, the SOS support coordinator.

The conference was open to all family and friends of fallen Illinois servicemembers. Participants were given the opportunity to remember their loved ones and meet and bond with others who have experienced the same tragedy.

Group workshops, creative arts and a family fair called "Celebrating their Lives," comprised a bulk of the day.

"These events were carefully chosen to aide in the process of finding their new normal," said Gillmore.

During the groups and workshops, families discussed the wavelengths of emotion they experience and what they do to cope with hardship.

"It's very hard for me sometimes, but the hardest part is being strong for my kids and showing them that everything is going to be okay," said Helen Durbin of Chatham, who attended on behalf of her late brother, Pfc. Adam E. Dobereiner of Moline.

Counselors were readily available throughout the day for anyone who sought services through discussion and on-site consultations.

"The counseling sessions were very insightful, in that I learned better ways to grieve," said Erin Hotchkins, who attended on behalf of her late husband, Spc. Gunnar Hotchkins of Hinsdale.

During the resources portion of the day, they worked on moving forward and remembering significant benchmarks as well as choosing a counselor and therapist that best meets their needs.

Later, families reminisced about their loved ones on camera.

"The testimonials were very meaningful to me, and ideas on how to commemorate our loved ones were very helpful," said Ruth Christine Hotchkins of Downers Grove, who also attended on behalf of her grandson Spc. Gunnar Hotchkins

As an additional extension of counseling services, families were provided with a list of the Mourner's Bill of Rights, to help them remember a healthier, more constructive way to grieve.

Mourners Bill of Rights

1. You have the right to experience you own unique grief.

2. You have the right to talk about your grief.

3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.

4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.

5. You have the right to experience the "grief burst."

6. You have the right to make use of ritual.

7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.

8. You have the right to search for meaning.

9. You have a right to treasure your memories.

10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

During the creative arts portion, adults and children alike were allowed to channel their emotions through creativity.

"The art class was a lot of fun and it made me happy to work with other kids who were feeling the same way I felt," said Anna Borders of Springfield, a family member with Cpl. Chad Young of Rochester.

The day concluded with the family fair simply named, "Celebrating Their Lives."

One activity was the rock climbing wall, where participants both received inspiration and remembered their fallen servicemember.

After scaling a rock climbing wall, children placed a written memory of their loved one's courage and strength as high on the wall as they could.

"I like to climb things all the time and I had a lot of fun doing this event," said Ethan Hotchkins of Montgomery, who attended on behalf of his father Pfc. Gunnar Hotchkins.

At the conclusion of the day's events, family members wrote the names of their fallen loved ones and a personal message on a piece of paper and attached it to a balloon. After a small countdown, the balloons were released as a symbol of remembrance.

"We remember," said Enyart. "We will always remember, because we are a service of tradition."

A total of 247 servicemembers from Illinois have made the ultimate sacrifice since 9-11. Of those servicemembers killed, 34 were part of the Illinois National Guard.

CHICAGO, IL (05/07/2012)(readMedia)-- Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Zygmunt Matynia, Consul General of the Republic of Poland, the Illinois National Guard and Polish civic organizations honored Polish Constitution Day celebrations at the James R. Thompson Center and Daley Plaza in Chicago May 4 and 5.

"I think it is important for the people of Illinois, almost 13 million people, to join together with our fellow patriots in Poland and celebrate this very important date in world history," said Quinn May 4 at a press conference at the Thompson Center. "This is a celebration. Both our nations believe in freedom and the written constitution."

Celebrated May 3, Constitution Day is a celebration of Poland's most important civil holiday - the signing of Europe's first codified national constitution May 3, 1791. Poland's constitution is the second oldest in the world, after the United States Constitution signed in 1781.

"We celebrate the constitution because it symbolizes the spiritual and moral renaissance of the Polish society after a long period of disorder," said Matynia. "The fathers of the Polish constitution saw the government as a tool of service for the common good. They truly believed that government must serve not in the interest of the few, but in the interest of the entire nation."

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Illinois National Guard's State Partnership Program with Poland. The Illinois National Guard has maintained a state partnership with Poland since 1993 and is one of the few National Guard States to co-deploy with a state partner.

Servicemembers from the Illinois National Guard's Bilateral Embedded Support Team-A9 (BEST-A9) are serving in Afghanistan with Polish Task Force White Eagle in Ghazni province as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)/International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission.

"The Illinois National Guard's partnership with Poland is the largest and second oldest partnership program in the National Guard," said Maj. Gen. William Enyart of Belleville, Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. "We must continue to develop this partnership and serve together as we serve our individual nations and continue to move toward world peace."

At the Polish Constitution Day Ceremony, Matynia was also presented the Illinois Military Medal of Merit by Enyart. Instituted in May 1978, the Illinois Military Medal is presented to those who distinguish themselves by exceptionally meritorious service to the state of Illinois.

"As the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, it is my duty to confirm medals to servicemembers and occasionally to civilians who have earned them through their merit and good work. Consul General Matynia has indeed earned this medal," Enyart said. "His commitment to excellence and dedication to the State Partnership Program reflects great credit upon himself, the Polish Consulate in Chicago and the Republic of Poland."

As part of the festivities, the city of Chicago honored the Polish holiday with a ceremonial flag rising at Daley Plaza May 5. The Illinois Army National Guard's 144th Army Band played ceremonial music, while the Chicago-based 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Color Guard posted both countries' colors.

"What a fantastic day it is to be here to represent the partnership between the Illinois National Guard and the nation of Poland." said Brig. Gen. James W. Schroeder, commander of the Illinois Air National Guard. "The energy and enormity of today's crowd is impressive - even despite the misty, overcast day."

The city also hosted the 121st Polish Constitution Day Parade in Grant Park May 5. Established in 1892, the Chicago parade is the largest Polish parade outside of Poland. More than 30 floats and 90 organizations participated in the parade as thousands of spectators waving Polish and American flags lined Columbus Drive in front of the historic Buckingham Fountain.

For additional photos of the event please visit the Illinois National Guard Facebook page at www.facebook.com/illinoisnationalguard.

SPRINGFIELD, IL (05/04/2012)(readMedia)-- Seven members of the Illinois Army National Guard competed in the 2012 Winston P. Wilson Marksmanship Sustainment Training Exercise at Camp Robinson, Ark., April 23 to 27.

The team placed 16th out of 86 teams. The exercise included 395 National Guard and Reserve competitors. This is only the second time Illinois has placed in the top 20 in 41 years of the competition.

Soldiers' marksmanship was tested from five yards with an M9 pistol to 600 yards with the M16 rifle. The team received third place in the PT 300 match and seventh in the RT 309 match.

Top individual performers included Staff Sgt. Tracy Mix of Marseilles with Company A, 33rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion in Marseilles with an overall individual 12th place, the Chief's 50 Marksmanship skill badge, 8th place pistol and eight Excellence in Competition pistol points. Staff Sgt. Gabe Cullers of Carrier Mills, with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment in West Frankfort placed third in RI 302, rifle reflex fire.

Illinois' A team members included Staff Sgt. Tracy Mix of Marseilles with Company A, 33rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion in Marseilles; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan Landon of Creal Springs with the 3637th Maintenance Company in Springfield; Staff Sgt. William Thorpe of Millstadt with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment in Marion; Sgt. Terry Pody of Machesney Park with 135th Chemical Company in Machesney Park.

Illinois' B team members included Staff Sgt. Gabe Cullers of Carrier Mills with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment in West Frankfort; Staff Sgt. Shawn Cannamore of Metropolis with Company C, 33rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion in Carbondale; Sgt. Chris Maag with the Minnesota Army National Guard; Capt. Thomas Martin Jr., of Streamwood with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in Chicago.

The team was coached by Sgt. First Class David Perdew of Astoria with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 44th Chemical Battalion in Macomb.

Georgia native goes above and beyond for man's best friend

Lance Cpl. Jeffery Rodriguez, a dog handler with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, stands with his dog, Dharma, next to the kennel he built for her, April 26, 2012. The kennel, made from extra Hesko wall and cargo netting, provides Dharma relief from the harsh Afghanistan wind and heat.

TREK NAWA, Afghanistan - Many children beg their parents for a dog. The floppy ears and wagging tail seems to attract children to man's best friend. But many parents know that caring for a dog means a lot of responsibility, training and effort.

Dog handlers in the Marine Corps not only shoulder those same responsibilities ? they volunteer for it. Then take on the responsibilities of being deployed to Afghanistan as well.

A dog handler's job can be exhausting, with an additional month of dog handler school, combined with months of predeployment training.

For Cpl. Jeffery Rodriguez, a dog handler with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, those responsibilities are more like a privilege.

Rodriguez said he loves being a dog handler. He knows he's helping his squad, and the added responsibilities far outweigh the added attention of caring for a dog.

What sets Rodriguez apart from other dog handlers is the personal effort he puts into Dharma, a 4-year-old Labrador retriever.

"He's the best dog handler I've ever seen," said Sgt. Edward Welsh, Rodriguez's squad leader. "He's constantly taking care of the dog and working to make himself and Dharma better."

Rodriguez, a native of Fayetteville, Ga., knows that a dog handler's job is more than just patrolling with and feeding the dog. The most important job is ensuring the dog is well prepared for the deployment ahead.

Shortly after he arrived in Afghanistan he built Dharma a new kennel.

The kennel, made from discarded pieces of Hesko wall, has a door and a crate for Dharma to sleep in. He used excess cargo netting to cover half of the kennel to shield Dharma from the harsh wind and heat of Afghanistan.

Dharma, with her endless wagging tail and dark eyes, returns the favor with loyalty and obedience.

Rodriguez's responsibilities extend farther than supplying Dharma with shelter. He works with Dharma to keep her skills sharp.

"He exercises the dog and whenever he goes running he takes the dog with him," said Welsh, a native of Cleveland.

Keeping the dogs in shape is vital in an area where temperatures will reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

"If a dog gets out of breathe in 20 to 30 minutes, they actually become a hindrance to the unit," said 1st Lt. Joseph Hoeksema, Rodriguez's platoon commander. "Dharma is in shape, and (Rodriguez) works her out two to three times a day."

Keeping Dharma in shape is a priority for Rodriguez. He laughingly said he can't let the dog get fat.

Rodriguez continually trains Dharma. After patrols and after security posts, he trains her with commands to strengthen their communication.

The bond between a dog handler and his dog is based on trust. If a dog doesn't trust the handler it won't obey commands.

"He tells her to sit there and stay there, (and) she does it," said Hoeksema, a native of Davenport, Iowa. "It doesn't matter if we are getting shot at, she's obeying (Rodriguez)."

Rodriguez has Dharma to help find improvised explosive devices and weapons caches.

"I use Dharma to search compounds, or to verify potentially dangerous objects," said Rodriguez. "She's like my little guardian angel running around."

The Marines patrol with Dharma daily, clearing compounds and routes.

"Just trusting (Dharma) helps the Marines," said Hoeksema. "When she goes into a compound and doesn't find an IED, the Marines are able to walk in confident that there aren't any IEDs."

Dharma confirmed two IEDs and some hidden-away weapons while deployed; but beyond her keen nose, she's made more of an impact on the Marines she protects.

Dharma also helps with morale of Marines who are away from their families for several months.

After patrolling, the Marines regularly pet and play with Dharma. They also laugh as she interacts with the local animals; goats and turkeys make an interesting find for a curious dog.

The sound of wings flapping and a loud gobble lets the squad know Dharma is up to some good-natured mischief.

Rodriguez lets it go for a little bit before calling Dharma back.

"It has been a great experience being a dog handler," said Rodriguez. "It's a great job to have with a lot of responsibility."

The extra workouts and countless hours to keep Dharma's training sharp are well worth the sacrifice when compared to the bond Rodriguez developed with Dharma. He considers her more than a dog. She is a friend, and a faithful one at that.

"She's not much of a growler," said Rodriguez. "She does get protective with me though, she'll bark at someone if she thinks I'm in danger."

In a couple of weeks, Rodriguez and Dharma will return home from their deployment to Afghanistan. This is Dharma's first deployment and could be Rodriguez's last.

They'll return on the same flight but will then be separated. Dharma will be assigned a new dog handler, and Rodriguez will return to his squad.

Though he said the goodbye will be hard, Rodriguez shared that he loved every minute of being a dog handler. The bond he built with Dharma and the experience was well worth the extra responsibility.

"It's hard not to think of Rodriguez and not think of Dharma too," said Welsh. "They are like two peas in a pod."

Rodriguez leaves Afghanistan with a four-legged friend and a lifelong bond.

"These dogs do work, so I'd want the next dog handlers to know to take it seriously," said Rodriguez with a smile.

Employers Recognized Among 3,236 Nominations Nationwide

SPRINGFIELD, IL (05/03/2012)(readMedia)-- ARLINGTON, Va. - Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense agency, announced today that three Illinois employers have been selected as semifinalists for the 2012 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the DoD to employers for exceptional support of their Guard and Reserve employees. This year, 133 semifinalists nationwide stood out among an impressive pool of 3,236 nominees.

The Illinois employers named semifinalists are Caterpillar Inc., Peoria; Prairie Grove Consolidated School District 46, Crystal Lake; and Divane Brothers Electric Company, Franklin Park. Freedom Award nominations come directly from Guard and Reserve members, or family members acting on their behalf. The Freedom Award provides service members with an opportunity to recognize employers for going above and beyond what is required by law. Employers chosen as semifinalists support their Guard and Reserve employees through a variety of formal and informal initiatives, including developing internal military support networks, providing full benefits to employees fulfilling their military obligations, caring for the families of deployed employees, and granting additional leave to Guard and Reserve employees preparing to leave for or return from deployments.

"The employers selected as Freedom Award semifinalists have distinguished themselves for their support of their National Guard and Reserve employees, and are truly serving our Nation with their extraordinary commitment to these special employees," said ESGR National Chair James G. Rebholz. "Their efforts are to be applauded, and ESGR salutes these patriotic employers for their special care of their Guard and Reserve employees and their families while they serve our Nation in times of war and peace."

ESGR will announce the 2012 Freedom Award finalists next month after a review board comprised of military and civilian leaders selects the 30 most supportive employers from among the 133 semifinalists. The 15 award recipients will be announced early this summer and honored in Washington, D.C. at the 17th annual Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award Ceremony on September 20, 2012.

A complete list of Freedom Award semifinalists from each state is available at www.FreedomAward.mil under the Media Tab in the Press Releases section.

About ESGR and the Freedom Award:

The Freedom Award was instituted in 1996 under the auspices of ESGR to recognize exceptional support from the employer community. In the years since, 160 employers have been honored with the award. Established as a DoD agency 40 years ago, ESGR develops and maintains employer support for Guard and Reserve service. ESGR advocates relevant initiatives, recognizes outstanding support, increases awareness of applicable laws, and resolves conflict between service members and employers. Paramount to ESGR's mission is encouraging employment of Guardsmen and Reservists who bring integrity, global perspective and proven leadership to the civilian workforce.

Through dust, heat, ANA lead operation to success

Lance Cpl. John Ellington, a team leader with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, patrols with his Afghan National Army counterparts on the third day of Operation High Noon 15, April 26, 2012. The Afghan-led operation cleared compounds and searched for improvised explosive devices, and weapons caches.

Read more: http://www.dvidshub.net/image/570276/through-dust-heat-ana-lead-operation-success#.T6Ld5lIf8sY#ixzz1tpxbldpR

WHO: The family of late World War II veteran Private First Class (PFC) Theodore "Ted" Bruch, Congressman Bobby Schilling, and First Army Deputy Commanding General for Support, Maj. Gen. Mark MacCarely.  Also expected is East Moline Mayor John Thodos.  

WHAT: A ceremony presenting the family of late WWII veteran PFC Bruch with a number of awards, including the Good Conduct Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze service stars, the World War II Victory medal, the Army of Occupation with Germany clasp, the Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII, and the Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar.

WHEN: Thursday May 3, 2012 at 12:00pm CST.

WHERE: East Moline City Hall's Council Room, 912 16th Avenue, East Moline Illinois 61244.

WHY: To give well-deserved recognition for the service of  PFC Bruch.  PFC Bruch was born in Waterloo, Iowa in 1926.  He joined the United States Army in June 1944, and served as a Combat Engineer in the European Theater of Operations, conducting a number of engineer missions.  PFC Bruch served until he was Honorably Discharged in June 1946.  He passed away on July 26, 2011. 

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BLOOMINGTON, IL (05/01/2012)(readMedia)-- Approximately 20 Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers who served in Afghanistan as part of an embedded training team have completed their mission and will return to Illinois this week. The homecoming ceremony for Bilateral Embedded Staff Team (BEST) A8 will be May 2 at the Bloomington National Guard Armory, 1616 S. Main St. in Bloomington at 4:30 p.m.

Mobilized in June, the team trained at Camp Atterbury, Ind., and joined its Polish counterparts in Poland for training before deploying to Afghanistan.

BEST A8, who was part of Task Force White Eagle, was instrumental in preparing the southern half of Ghazni Province for the 82nd Airborne's arrival.

"The amount of time, coordination and physical labor put into this mission is impressive by itself, but the fact that the Army and Air Force engineers completed this mission is incredible," said 1st Lt. Ryan Bivins of Dixon with BEST A8.

The operation consisted of more than 500 Army, Navy and Air Force engineers, expanding five existing bases and building five new bases during the harsh winter months of Afghanistan.

"A logistics operation of this significance was only possible through cooperation of the Soldiers, Airmen, transporters and aviators, Department of Defense agencies and the Polish military contingent," said Maj. Rhonda Petersen of Lindenhurst with BEST A8. "Task Force White Eagle was able to realize this objective through coordination and execution with more than nine task forces within Regional Command East and 1st Cavalry Division. The proactive dynamic of all involved ensured a winning combination."

Attack helicopters were not something Task Force White Eagle had received too much of in the past until Capt. Tony Keel of Grayslake ensured Soldiers in Task Force White Eagle had support from the sky.

"Helicopter planning was extremely time consuming, but very rewarding and I really enjoyed my job," Keel said. "I especially enjoyed planning with Kiowa and Apache attack helicopter crews because all the ground units loved having that air power overhead supporting their missions and that motivated me to obtain as much air support as possible."The Illinois National Guard has co-deployed with every Polish rotation to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Col. Tom Purple of Rochester said leadership and experience were evident in the success of their team.

"It is a true honor to serve with outstanding warriors during a critical time in the campaign and be part of the success and history of our great Army," Purple said.

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Lance Cpl. Noel Miranda, infantryman, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, patrols through Musa Qa'leh District, Afghanistan, April 23, 2012. Miranda, from Muscatine, Iowa, was part of a patrol to disrupt insurgent supply lines and gain intelligence from locals

WASHINGTON – Major steps in the Coast Guard's effort to eliminate sexual assault in its workforce were taken Wednesday as leaders released a new Coast Guard sexual assault prevention and response program manual formalizing improvements to its sexual assault prevention and response program, as well as announcing the seniority of officers allowed to act on certain sexual assault cases is being raised.

"These actions are major steps toward achieving our goal of eliminating sexual assault within the Coast Guard by ensuring a culture of prevention through improved education and training, response capability, victim support and accountability," said Coast Guard acting commandant, Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara.

Major improvements in the program manual include greater protection for sexual assault victims, enhanced accountability for response by unit commanders, and more rigorous and defined reporting procedures for all reports of sexual assault. The SAPR program manual, which replaces a previous Coast Guard instruction, is the culmination of a multi-year effort to put in place a more effective SAPR program across the service.

The service also announced the handling of certain sexual assault cases will be made only by officers holding the rank of captain or higher who possess special court-martial convening authority, beginning June 28. This will ensure a senior level of review by the Coast Guard's most experienced officers from the outset of certain sexual assault cases as well as ensure that the full measure of response, victim support and criminal investigative resources are brought to bear. This action aligns the service with a directive issued April 20 by Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directing the same for the handling of sexual assault cases within components of the Defense Department.

The June 28 implementation date adopted by all five military branches coincides with the effective date of section 541 of the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 that reforms Unified Code of Military Justice offenses relating to sexual misconduct.

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