JOLIET, IL (04/11/2012)(readMedia)-- A collection of eight clergy and community-based church leaders from the Chicago area gathered at the Joliet National Guard Armory April 10 to kick off a five-event Partners In Care campaign.

"The purpose is to bring clergy as well as community-based church leaders together to offer training in terms of how they can better support military members in their congregation as well as their community," said Chaplain (Capt.) Vincent C. Lambert of Chicago, with 2nd Battalion, 122nd Field Artillery in Chicago. "So the idea is that we want to provide them with tools, resources and training that better equips them to serve the military population."

This training is in light of the vast amount of people in Illinois who are connected to the military. There are more than 750,000 people living in Illinois who have either served or are serving in the Armed Forces.

"Military personnel are a significant chunk of the population, here in Illinois and if we can get as many partners as possible to help support the population I think the state is better for it, those families are better for it and ultimately the people who provide that support are better for it," said Lambert.

Martin R. Stidham of Chicago and pastor at the Chicago International Church initially expressed interest in the Partners In Care training to understand and help his son who is in the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Illinois. He walked away with a larger vision of how beneficial this training could be.

"I would say we are more equipped now," said Stidham. "I, at least, feel more compassionate toward them, more understanding of what they've gone through. I feel that I have a much greater understanding than before. Understanding is a good tool to help listen better."

Those in attendance received instruction to help servicemembers with traumatic physical and mental injuries to deal with post traumatic stress disorder. Instructors then addressed secondary traumatic stress disorders and the pain family members can go through, with the goal to effectively support servicemembers facing the reality that there is a "new normal."

"What we want is to make sure that we're offering resources that helps individuals be emotionally healthy, spiritually healthy, and to have a good family," said Lambert. "So the idea is to offer up resources that are spiritual, emotional and mental so that people will be whole and healed."

The Partners in Care program looks to take advantage of a unique connection between institutions of faith and the military.

"I think the military benefits greatly from the stability and support that is provided by religious communities and by people of faith," said Tony J. Sorgi of Chicago, a doctoral student at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in the military psychology track. "I think it can provide a measure of mental resilience from a psychological perspective and I think that's very important. On the flip side I think the military communities make enormous contributions to the religious communities they are a part of in civil society. The experience of war is profound and for the people who work their way through that experience, they bring a strength to democracy and civil society that we badly need."

The Partners In Care campaign will continue with a stop at the Chicago Armory April 12, the Mount Vernon Armory April 17, the Elgin Armory April 18, and the Illinois Military Academy at Camp Lincoln in Springfield April 25. All instruction beginning at 9 a.m.

"The more partners we have, the more points of support we have throughout the state," said Lambert. "The more points of support we have the better we are at being able to support our military personnel and their families. We are always looking for more partners and houses of faith that would be committed and want to become a part of the program."

Date Location

April 12 Chicago Armory; 5200 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago

April 17 Mount Vernon Armory; 205 7th St., Mount Vernon

April 18 Elgin Armory; 254 Raymond St., Elgin

April 25 Camp Lincoln Illinois Military Academy, 1301 N. MacArthur Blvd., Springfield

Decades after earning them, Henry A. Johnson finally presented Purple Heart, Bronze Star,

and six other medals he never received 


Cedar Falls, IA - Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today traveled to Cedar Falls to present seven military service medals - including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star - to Henry A. Johnson, 93, a World War II Army veteran who earned the medals but never received them after he was wounded in Italy during the war.

In discharge papers, the Army told Johnson he was awarded the medals, but they were never given to him.  Johnson recently approached Braley's office for assistance in finally obtaining the medals - decades after they were granted.

"On behalf of the American people, I want to thank Henry Johnson for his service to our country," Braley said.  "His sacrifice and the sacrifices of millions of others paved the way for decades of American freedom and prosperity.  Six decades is a long time to wait for such an honor, but I'm proud to stand with Henry today and present him these distinguished medals.  Henry is more than deserving of our gratitude for his honorable service."


Braley presented Johnson the following medals for his service in World War II: the Bronze Star; the Purple Heart; the Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal; the Combat Infantry Badge 1st Award; and the Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII.

Johnson was stationed in Italy as an Army telephone switchboard operator during World War II.  Johnson was wounded and spent time in a Chicago hospital before being discharged.  Johnson worked for the Carnation Company in Waverly for 30 years before retiring.

It is thought that thousands of World War II veterans have never received medals they earned due to shortages in materials after the war.

After getting a request for assistance from Johnson, Braley's office worked with the National Personnel Records Center to obtain the medals.  Braley's office is well-equipped to help veterans who have lost medals, never received them, or who have had them destroyed due to natural disaster, fire or other circumstances.  Veterans seeking assistance should contact Braley's Waterloo office at (319) 287-3233.

Braley is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

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SPRINGFIELD, IL (04/06/2012)(readMedia)-- Four members of the Illinois National Guard's Family Programs were recognized for their efforts and service to the Soldiers, Airmen and military families April 4 at Camp Lincoln in Springfield.

Kathy KozaK of Glendale Heights, Anita Yakle of Jacksonville and Shirley Dilworth of Springfield received a Military Medal of Merit and Annette Chapman of Pontiac received a trophy of achievement for their display of selfless devotion and support for Illinois National Guard Family Program's mission. Their efforts enhanced operational support and ensured the program met the needs of servicemembers and their families.

Kozak served as the hub for the Illinois National Guard's Family support system at North Riverside. She successfully maintained a 99 percent contact rate for outreach calls to family members of deployed servicemembers and also serves as a primary contact for the Service Member and Family Support Services for Informal Crisis Response Team.

Yakle was the primary member of the Servicemember Readiness Program team; processing more than 10,000 Soldiers. On a daily basis she works closely with all branches, establishing professional and supportive relationships, assists Survivors and the Survivor Outreach Services Team. She supports more than 30 units, more than 3,600 servicemembers in addition to their family members.

As the Springfield Illinois Service Member and Family Support Services Military Youth Coordinator, Dilworth successfully established events to assist more than 31,000 military youth of all branches within Illinois to cope with a parent's deployment and homecoming.

Dilworth facilitated more than 45 events with a year-end total of more than 3,300 youth

attendees at events such as deployment and reunion ceremonies, formal classes for youth ages 6 to 17 on how to cope with deployments and improving the State's Annual Easter Egg Hunt. She ensures all events are both enjoyable and educational.

Chapman assisted in the pre-deployment, deployment and return of more than 3,000 servicemembers with the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and assisted their families through every step in 2008 to 2009. After that, she stepped up as the Family Readiness Assistant and finally the Senior Family Readiness Support Assistant for the Illinois National Guard Service Members and their families.

SPRINGFIELD, IL (04/06/2012)(readMedia)-- "You call, we haul," is uttered by many transportation company Soldiers throughout the state. Motor transport operators drive the force, hauling rolling stock to ammunition and other vital supplies.

The Illinois National Guard's 129th Regional Training Institute out of the Illinois Military Academy at Camp Lincoln trained 11 Soldiers from various state and Army components to be certified as motor transport operators (88M) at the Illinois State Police Training Area in Pawnee, March 18 to April 1.

The 129th operates, like many other military schools, with a crawl, walk, run course progression. The Soldiers start in the classroom learning everything from hand and arm signals to how to fill out a dispatch form.

Soldiers then move to hands-on practice backing up with a 5-ton cargo truck, a 915 with a tractor trailer and a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck with tractor trailer. They also practice driving in convoys and night vision driving.

The main emphasis of the training is to give Soldiers the skills they will need to be successful during future operations.

Illinois is one of 20 states offering a course that certifies Soldiers as 88Ms.

"The Illinois Military Academy has been described as the best Army school house in the nation," said Col. Thomas Weiss of Williamsville, the director of Training, Operations and Plans at Camp Lincoln. "It's important we support our Military Academy by enrolling in its courses before considering other sources of training."

Soldiers will receive quality training at the 88M course, the instructors said.

"The training that we put together is among the top in the country," said Sgt. 1st Class James R. Griffin of Riverton, a course manager in the 129th. "Back in July we received an accreditation from both United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and the 88M transportation proponent as an Institute of Excellence. We have had several best practices for things we have done, not just out here on the lanes, but also for our work behind the scenes."

Spc. Chris R. Rapacz of Springfield, a former gunner in an active-duty field artillery unit and now with the 724th Transportation Company, an Army Reserve unit in Bartonville, said he is excited about the training he's received.

"It's great," said Rapacz. "That's why you join the Army; to do neat things. I shot some of the biggest guns in the military and now I am going to drive some of the biggest trucks. I am all around satisfied with everything about this training."

Several Soldiers from out of the state participated in the training as well.

"The quality of the training is good," said Pfc. Jason T. Snyder of Louisville, Ky., who drills with the 203rd Forward Support Company in Elizabethtown, Ky. "I am confident that I will be able to take a lot of these skills back to my unit and on a deployment if needed and will be able to utilize these skills."

In addition to being a benefit for Soldiers attending the course, the course also provides many benefits to the state of Illinois that make this the ultimate win-win scenario.

"It will help Illinois save money because Illinois is the largest National Guard transportation state in the United States," said Sgt. 1st Class Ed D. Heap of Bushnell with the 129th. "We have the most transportation companies and, with us doing our own training, we don't have to pay a different state for lodging and meals. We don't have to pay a lot to the Soldiers for traveling. It also helps Illinois National Guard Soldiers save a lot of wear and tear on their vehicles when they don't have to do a long drive."

"These skills are very applicable to real-mission scenarios," said Heap. "Overseas in theater they do have the line-haul missions. They are going to have to back up under all sorts of missions."

Several of the instructors have performed as 88Ms while in a deployment overseas and know the importance of transportation.

"An 88M is very essential to the overall mission of the Army," said Heap. "Without 88Ms units won't get their supplies. I consider 88M to be the main backbone of the Army because we haul the supplies including the food, water, fuel, ammunition. So without the 88M the Army can't run logistically."

Griffin agreed with Heap's assessment.

"I used to have a quote for the guys who would make fun of me for being a truck driver and it says that 'I may not be the pride of the Army, but without me your pride don't ride,'" said Griffin.

There is a great need for 88Ms. While there are more than 1,000 certified 88Ms in the Illinois Army National Guard, there are still 162 88M openings waiting to be filled. With that many openings new 88M Soldiers can expect a fast-tracked career and increased leadership opportunities.

Blue Star Families' Books on Bases essay contest open during April, the Month of the Military Child

Washington, D.C. (April 6, 2012)–Military families love to read! One of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is the ability to read and Blue Star Families wants to know what books your military family is reading together.  During April, the month of the military child, Blue Star Families invites military kids everywhere to share their family's favorite book for a chance to win great prizes!

"April is a great time to remember all the sacrifices that military children make when their parents serve, as well as the positive experiences of being in a military family," said Mark Smith, executive director of Blue Star Families. "Our essay contest focuses kids and their parents on the family fun that comes from reading together, and the highlights the benefits of doing so."

Since 1986 April has been designated the Month of the Military Child and throughout the month, Blue Star Families is hosting an essay contest for military children in kindergarten through fifth grade. Any child with a parent or sibling in active duty, Reserve or National Guard service can enter by answer the question, "What is your favorite book to read ALOUD as a family and why?"

From the 100 word or less entries, Blue Star Families will select four winners at the end of the month for prizes including a Barnes & Noble Nook, a set of 20 new books, a webcam, a certificate for a free story from Be There Bedtime Stories, and a certificate of achievement from Blue Star Families.

Added Smith, "This is a great opportunity for every military family. Reading as a family is so important, especially for military families. Plus, who wouldn't want a free Nook?"

Each entry should be sent to before 11:59 pm Eastern Time on April 28, 2012. Visit for more details and the full rules, terms, and conditions.

About Books on Bases
The Books on Bases program works positively impact the lives of military children through the power of reading.  Blue Star Families continues its mission to promote literacy among military children by providing books to military children, military base libraries, Department of Defense Schools, military impacted public schools and community libraries.

About Blue Star Families
Blue Star Families is a national, nonprofit network of military families from all ranks and services, including guard and reserve, with a mission to support, connect and empower military families. In addition to morale and empowerment programs, Blue Star Families raises awareness of the challenges and strengths of military family life and works to make military life more sustainable. Membership includes military spouses, children and parents as well as service members, veterans and civilians. To learn more about Blue Star Families, visit


Bettendorf, IA -- Officials with Hy-Vee and Honor Flight of the Quad Cities will hold a news conference Monday to discuss details of the upcoming Hy-Vee Honor Flight.

Hy-Vee is providing financial support for the first Korean War Era Veterans Honor Flight, which is scheduled to take off May 22nd from Quad City International Airport in Moline with approximately 162 Korean veterans and their guardians on board. These veterans will be traveling to Washington, DC to view our nation's monuments honoring their sacrifice and service to their country.

Please join us this Monday for an update on the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities program and be the first to hear about some of the exciting events planned in conjunction with the Hy-Vee Honor Flight.

WHAT:  Honor Flight news conference

WHEN:  Monday, April 9, 2012, 11:00am

WHERE:  Bettendorf Hy-Vee, 2900 Devils Glen Road

WHO:  Representatives from Hy-Vee, Inc., Representatives from Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, and Korean War Veterans

Homecoming Ceremonies Planned April 5 at Rock Falls and Springfield National Guard Armories

ROCK FALLS, IL (04/03/2012)(readMedia)-- Homecoming ceremonies are scheduled for April 5 for approximately 170 Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers with the 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls. Ceremonies will take place in Rock Falls and Springfield.

Mobilized in July 2011, the 1644th deployed to Kuwait in August in support of Operation New Dawn and Enduring Freedom.

The mission of the 1644th included hauling cargo throughout Iraq and Kuwait. The unit completed approximately 175 transportation missions in Kuwait and Iraq with no casualties. The Soldiers traveled 4.1 million miles, hauled more than 35,000 tons of cargo and transported more than 7,500 pieces of equipment to help the United States in its withdrawal from Iraq. The achievements of the 1644th resulted in 185 awards, including 28 Soldiers recommended for Bronze Stars. The 1644th also received a Unit Safety Streamer for its vigilance while deployed.

The 1644th was the last long-haul transportation convoy to leave Iraq Dec. 18, 2011 as the United States concluded operations in Iraq.

"This was a historic moment for the United States of America and the people of Iraq," said Capt. Michael Barton of Greenview, commander of the 1644th. "Just the fact that the Illinois National Guard and the 1644th played such a big part in the final convoy is very special."

The 1644th was previously mobilized in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from October 2004 to October 2005.

Media attending one of the homecoming ceremonies should arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the anticipated start time. Media attending the Springfield ceremony are asked to RSVP to the Public Affairs Office at 217-761-3569 to be granted access onto Camp Lincoln.

Location/Time/Number of Soldiers

Rock Falls Armory; 716 6th Ave.; Rock Falls at Noon for approximately 115 Soldiers

Camp Lincoln; 1301 N. MacArthur Blvd. in Springfield at 8 p.m. for approximately 60 Soldiers

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April Is Sexual Assault Awareness Month; Illinois National Guard Program Teaches Prevention While Teaching Response Techniques

SPRINGFIELD, IL (04/03/2012)(readMedia)-- In a recent episode of ABC's Private Practice, a Soldier returning from Afghanistan was forced to deal with events that occurred while he was deployed overseas. After the fictional character attempted suicide, it is evident more aggressive methods of treatment are needed to help the Soldier who is trying to cope with returning to civilian life, as well as a sexual assault that occurred overseas.

In real life, sexual assault within the ranks of the military is not a new problem. It is, however, a problem that has made it necessary for the military to conduct its own annual reporting on the crisis.

"Illinois was one of the first states to take the situation seriously and hire a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) full-time to address and implement the state's program," said Master Sgt. Christy Sipes of Rushville, who was the first SARC the Illinois National Guard hired full-time to manage the program. "It has evolved rapidly over the past five years, but the message remains that sexual assault is an important topic that commanders must address."

In 2011, there were 160 reports of sexual assault in the National Guard. In Illinois there were eight sexual assaults and two sexual harassment cases reported. Although assaults mostly occur while Soldiers are in non-duty status, victims assaulted during deployments often report the incident upon returning to their home state.

Since the inception of the sexual assault programs in 2005, the Illinois National Guard responded to 29 reported incidents of sexual assaults. Some of the incidents occurred prior to the Soldier joining or transferring in the Illinois National Guard.

"People are coming forward knowing their chain of command will have their backs," said Kim Schaefle of Warrenville, the assistant sexual assault response coordinator with the Illinois National Guard. "Sexual assault prevention has become a major priority for the Illinois National Guard."

While there are no easy ways to deal with the trauma of sexual assault, there are many resources available throughout the military, and more are being developed to insure the victim is protected and assisted in recovery.

The National Guard is in a unique position because most of the reported assaults did not take place during duty hours, therefore not providing the program any latitude for proper reporting, said Sipes. Illinois is a victim supportive state with many programs available to victims of violent crime, which is a tool that is frequently used. Illinois is fortunate to have these programs to help offset the cost of lost wages and clothing during an assault. The clothes and items become evidence and therefore the person loses them, Sipes added.

All Soldiers have to complete Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training annually. The Illinois Army National Guard is leading the nation in training compliance.

"Our main goal in this annual class is to let the Soldiers know about the reporting options that are available to them if they are a victim of sexual assault," said Sgt Maj. Diane S. Rogers of Girard, Illinois Army National Guard's SARC. "The two options are restricted and unrestricted reporting. Most do not know that they have an option."

The Illinois National Guard is a microcosm of society. Although the military is typically held to a higher standard, assaults occur in the military ranks just like they do in the civilian sector. The Illinois National Guard has made it a priority to make sure assistance is available for victims.

"We also want the Soldier to know that there is help for them if they are a victim of sexual assault," Rogers said. "The SARCs and Unit Victim Advocates and Chaplains are here for them."

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and commits to raising awareness and promoting the prevention of sexual violence through use of special events and public education.

"This is an issue that must not be limited to one month a year," Rogers said. "It is an ongoing problem that must get better and it is up to everyone in the military to make sure they are doing their part to prevent, report and support."

Photo: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael Camacho, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs/ Theresa Duncan a trauma nurse specialist, sexual assault nurse examiner with St. Johns Hospital in Springfield speaks to nearly 70 Soldiers with the Illinois National Guard attending the two week Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention training Feb. 23 at Camp Lincoln in Springfield. The Soldiers met with a panel of sexual assault response experts from the Springfield area.

For high resolution photos, please contact the Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office at

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SPRINGFIELD, IL (04/03/2012)(readMedia)--


• Illinois National Guard chaplains, community clergy and the Partners in Care program


• The training is designed to raise awareness among community religious leaders about the challenges faced by servicemembers and their families, with a focus on deployment related issues such as anger management, suicide prevention, military marriages, and church and community support for the military.

• Partners in Care is a program dedicated to providing servicemembers community resources through local congregations.


Date Location Time

April 10 Joliet Armory; 2900 W. Jefferson St., Joliet 9 a.m.

April 12 Chicago Armory; 5200 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago 9 a.m.

April 17 Mount Vernon Armory; 205 7th St., Mount Vernon 9 a.m.

April 18 Elgin Armory; 254 Raymond St., Elgin 9 a.m.

April 25 Camp Lincoln Illinois Military Academy, 1301 N. MacArthur Blvd., Springfield 9 a.m.


• The goal of Partners in Care is to provide military personnel with local community support in their geographical area.

• There are 72 congregations across Illinois that are part of the organization, which was started in fall 2009.

• Faith group leaders will receive pertinent information to minister, not only to military personnel, but to the community.

**All are encouraged to attend. For further information, please contact Chaplain Lambert at or 773-406-5183.

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Nelson Officially Retires April 30 After 27 Years of Service in ILARNG

SPRINGFIELD, IL (03/30/2012)(readMedia)-- With every military memory and mission, Col. Tracy Nelson of Springfield, is not afraid to give credit to those who have shaped him into the commissioned officer and Soldier he is today. After 27 years in the Illinois Army National Guard (ILARNG), Nelson will retire April 30.

While Nelson credits many Soldiers throughout his career, he said it is the noncommissioned officers (NCOs) who taught him the most.

It all started when he enlisted in the active component of the U.S. Army in 1975. He was just 17, grew up with five brothers and five sisters on a small Minnesota farm and needed his father's signature to serve his country. He was stationed in Germany for three years as a crewman for CH-47 Chinook helicopters that transported nuclear weapons. During this assignment, young Pvt. Nelson was introduced to a group of seasoned NCOs who served in Vietnam.

"The NCOs from Vietnam were empowered; they owned the Army," he said. "They have had the largest impact on my life...and on the rest of my career."

After his tour in Germany, Nelson decided to get out of the U.S. Army to go to college in East Peoria. He soon realized he missed the military, so a friend and ILARNG aviation Soldier convinced him to join the ILARNG and enroll in officer candidate school (OCS).

Out of his entire OCS Class that graduated in 1985, Nelson is one of only three Soldiers who still remain in the ILARNG. One of those Soldiers, Col. B.J. Mayberry of Springfield, with Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ) in Springfield, was his battle buddy during OCS and vividly remembers a moment of Nelson's resiliency during training.

"On a night land navigation event he took off running, with me attempting to keep up, when all of a sudden he practically fell to his knees," Mayberry said. "I caught up only to find he had ducked under a tree and had stuck a piece of the tree in his eye and it looked like a dagger sticking out of his face. He grunted, grabbed the stick, pulled it out and yelled 'Let's go!' We ended up beating the rest of the class in that night by close to a half an hour."

Once he commissioned, Nelson started his career with 1st Battalion, 123rd Infantry Regiment. He was with the battalion until 1993 and made it to the rank of captain.

He said it was during this time that he and his fellow Soldiers enforced a standard he was familiar with while on active duty. Realistic training was a priority and the battalion initiated training that had never been done before.

"We're going to train like we're going (to war) tomorrow," Nelson said. "If we're going to be here, we're going to do it right."

The third OCS classmate who is still in the ILARNG, Col. Tom Weiss of Sherman, with JFHQ, was in the 123rd with Nelson.

"With Nelson, don't slow down or he will run you over," said Weiss. "He likes to boast, but he backs it up with action!"

In 2003, Nelson, now a lieutenant colonel, faced his first deployment. While he had never deployed, he frequently travelled across the country and the world.

He was at annual training with the 33rd Area Support Group when he was told, within days, he was deploying to Iraq. First he immediately reported to U.S Central Command in Tampa, Fla., for a two-week mission. He then returned home to Illinois on a Thursday to pack his bags and say good-bye to his family before he left Sunday morning for the year-long deployment.

Nelson said the quick turn-around was easier because it left less time for him and his family to think about it. His wife, Debbie, understood it was simply part of the job. She said she was used to him travelling but admitted an entire year to Iraq was a little different than two or three weeks across the country or the world.

"It's who we are and what we do. You accept it and move forward," she said. "It's a mental state. It's no different than going out and running a race. It's a will to win."

She said some days were easier than others but she never let their children have pity parties or feel sorry for themselves because their dad was in Iraq. At the time, their son Everett was in fifth grade and their daughter Madeline was in first grade. Nelson's daughter Kathleen, from a previous marriage, was 16.

This deployment was the first Multi-National Division (MND) deployment with the Polish Armed Forces and the ILARNG.

When he returned, he became the 108th Sustainment Brigade commander. The 108th was going through a transformation and Nelson's OCS battle buddy was by his side.

"I would say one of my most memorable training events was working with him when he (took command of) the 108th," said Mayberry. "The 108th ended up arguably the best brigade in the state. It was a lot of hard work and relentless pressure to attain excellence but in the end I wouldn't trade that transformation for any of my other military experiences."

Then in 2010, Nelson faced his second and final deployment. Again, along with a team of ILARNG Soldiers, he deployed with the Polish Armed Forces for a joint mission to Afghanistan. This mission was the deadliest deployment the Polish had experienced since World War II. Now a colonel, Nelson was even a personal target of a suicide bomber while on a mission.

"You can't stop doing your mission because you're a target," he said. "My Soldiers were a target every day."

Debbie said Everett and Madeline understood this deployment a little more since they were older and because military deployments were fairly common. She said Nelson made both deployments a little easier, too, because he kept his family and the children's school friends informed about what he was doing and where he was at.

Despite Nelson's busy career, Debbie said the two of them have always spent time together, which she knows will continue into his retirement.

"Tracy and I are best friends, so we're always together," she said.

Looking to the future, Nelson plans to spend some time coaching Madeline, who is now a freshman in high school. He also said he hopes to spend more time at the family's South Carolina home, which is where Everett is living while attending the Citadel.

Despite his future plans, he said he'll miss the Soldiers he grew up with and the ILARNG Soldiers of the next generation.

"I'll miss the Soldiers the most," he said. "There is a small core of guys who know what you have to do. It's all about leadership, which I've learned from my NCOs."