Welcome Home Heroes Offers Up to $10,000 Plus Federal Tax Credit to

Help Servicemembers and Veterans Purchase Their Own Home

CHICAGO - December 14, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today launched the Welcome Home Heroes program to promote homeownership for Illinois Veterans, active military personnel, reservists and Illinois National Guard members. The financing package is available statewide, and provides a forgivable grant up to $10,000 toward the purchase of a new home, as well as an additional mortgage tax credit up to $20,000 over the life of the loan. Welcome Home Heroes will make homeownership even more affordable for thousands of military families and create more than 400 jobs throughout Illinois.

"The Welcome Home Heroes program honors and celebrates those who safeguard our freedom by providing them with an affordable path to homeownership," Governor Quinn said. "Our servicemembers returning home from overseas deserve our help as they put down roots in their community and begin building a civilian life with their families."


Welcome Home Heroes is open to all qualified Illinois Veterans. Active military personnel, reservists and Illinois National Guard members must be first-time buyers. The Welcome Home Heroes homebuyer financing package includes a forgivable $10,000 grant for down-payment and closing cost assistance, an affordable interest rate (4 percent as of today) for a secure 30-year fixed rate mortgage, and a mortgage credit certificate worth up to approximately $20,000 for the life of the loan.

"Welcome Home Heroes furthers Governor Quinn's commitment to sustaining affordable homeownership opportunities available through the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA)," said IHDA Executive Director Mary Kenney. "IHDA has helped nearly 60,000 low- to moderate-income families buy a home, and now we can help even more families attain homeownership."

Welcome Home Heroes is funded through $5 million in Illinois Jobs Now! capital funds and $5 million from the Illinois Affordable Housing Trust Fund. In addition to creating homeownership opportunities, the Welcome Home Heroes financing package will stimulate statewide economic activity. The $10 million investment will generate an estimated:

  • 405 full-time jobs
  • $16.7 million from real estate-related industries
  • More than $5.3 million in economic activity for the state
  • Additional $10.6 million in other statewide spending

"Many National Guard, Reserve and active-duty Soldiers come back from deployment and face hard times," said Maj. Gen. William L. Enyart, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. "Programs such as this homeownership initiative will go a long way toward helping these men and women achieve the American dream. They fought for it and they deserve it."

"As Veterans transition to civilian life, the Welcome Home Heroes homebuyer package assists those who want to find a safe and affordable way to buy a home," said Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Borggren.


Welcome Home Heroes program builds on IHDA's existing affordable home loan program, SmartMove, also available through IHDA's lenders. Income thresholds and purchase price limits apply. Administered by the IHDA, the package applies to 1-2 unit residential properties that are located in the State of Illinois and are purchased as a primary residence.

Interested Veterans, servicemembers and their families can contact a lender in their area to apply. The Welcome Home Heroes application is free. A list of lenders is available at www.ihda.org/homeowner/heroes.htm.


Four Central Illinois Businesspersons Recognized for Support to National Guard; Story by Sgt. Jesse Houk, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

SPRINGFIELD, IL (12/14/2011)(readMedia)-- Distinguished guests and prominent local leaders assembled at the Governor's Mansion in Springfield Dec. 13, the 375th birthday of the National Guard, to honor employers and their commitment to supporting the Guard and its missions.

"We are here to recognize some organizations that have been supportive of the National Guard; specifically units that are deploying to Afghanistan and we are going to give them the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Seven Seals Award," said Lt. Col. Tim W. Franklin of Springfield, with the Illinois Army National Guard and Program Coordinator for Illinois ESGR.

The Seven Seals Award represents the seven military reserve components: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard reserves, along with the Army and Air National Guard.

The four who were honored with the Seven Seals Award for their efforts were Karen Hewitt, Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; Dr. Pinky Wassenberg, Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Illinois-Springfield; Todd Renfrow, retired General Manager, City Water, Light, and Power of Springfield; and Dan Jackson, Sangamon County Division Manager, Allied Waste Management.

"The individuals we honor tonight provided members of the Illinois Army National Guard an expanded knowledge of how our units of government accomplish their daily operations in the critical infrastructure sector," said Franklin. "Their expertise provided a collaborative environment between Soldiers and civilian subject matter experts in the fields of technology, engineering, and culture."

Each one of the Seven Seals Award Recipients went above and beyond their occupational responsibilities to make the preparation training beneficial for all involved. Although the Illinois Army National Guard representatives collected priceless experience and insights the four honored also found the collaborative process to be valuable.

"We prepared the Guard for what they could expect and how to capture and benefit from it," said Renfrow. "It was a very rewarding experience."

"I did it because it's the thing you should want to do for the country," said Renfrow. "We depend on the Guard and the Reserves to bolster our safety and I would like to help them accomplish their mission in any way I can."

Also in attendance was Sergio Pecori, President and CEO of Hanson Professional Services in Springfield. Hanson was recognized this year as one of only 15 companies nationwide to receive the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

Support from employers is crucial for the long-term success of each citizen-Soldier and the National Guard and Reserve. The four honored professionals said they understand their involvement is essential to the success of the mission and are setting a high example for other employers to follow.

The Illinois National Guard will continue its birthday celebrations Dec. 14 in downtown Springfield. As part of the Downtown Springfield Inc. Holiday Walk, the National Guard will feature many of its capabilities, with hands-on, interactive displays open to all ages. Featured equipment includes up-armored vehicles, a M777 howitzer and the Engagement Skills Training 2000, which virtually simulates weapon-training, a Korea War-era vehicle and a World War I cannon. The celebration takes place from 4 to 8:30 p.m.

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Dozens of national employers participating in Midwest virtual career fair tomorrow


Waterloo, IA - Today, Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) urged Iowa veterans seeking employment to participate in a virtual online career fair for Midwest veterans organized by the US Department of Veterans Affairs tomorrow, Tuesday December 13, 2011, from 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. Central Time.

"Our veterans have made incredible sacrifices for our nation and after returning from the battlefield they deserve good jobs," Braley said. "I am committed to use every opportunity possible to help these veterans. Iowa veterans should visit www.veteranscareerfair.com to register and take advantage of this great opportunity."

Veterans are encouraged to pre-register at http://www.veteranscareerfair.com for the online career fair.  During the career fair on Tuesday, veterans from across Iowa and the Midwest can log in and visit virtual employer booths, search for and apply to job openings, and chat with recruiters online.

Other states joining in the December 13th event are Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  The Midwest virtual career fair is supported by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the Military Officers Association of America, the Wounded Warrior Project, the Disabled American Veterans, and other groups.

Braley is the highest ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.  In October, Braley held a field hearing in Waterloo that focused on veterans' economic opportunity and job creation, especially with regards to Iowa National Guard and Reserve members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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SPRINGFIELD, IL (12/11/2011)(readMedia)-- Someone headed to war surrounded by foreign troops might be expected to be a little nervous, but Col. Michael Zerbonia of Chatham is calm and confident.

Perhaps that's because the Polish brigade that Zerbonia's 18-Soldier Bi-lateral Embedded Support Team (BEST) 10 will co-deploy with this summer are hardly foreign - they're longtime friends with the Illinois National Guard.

The Illinois National Guard has shared a State Partnership Program (SPP) with the Polish military since 1993. The Illinois National Guard started to co-deploy with a Polish brigade first to Iraq and then Afghanistan starting in 2003. This will be Zerbonia's second deployment with the Polish.

In addition to commanding the BEST 10 team, Zerbonia will act as the Deputy Brigade Commander of the 12th Polish Mechanized Brigade, working with approximately 2,800 Polish Soldiers. The 12th's mission in Afghanistan will be to maintain freedom of movement, policing the Ghanzi Province and handing over the responsibilities to Afghan forces.

The Illinois National Guard's SPP is among the oldest and largest of 61 total partnerships. The SPP was established to help former Eastern Bloc countries transition to democracy following the collapse of the Soviet Union by linking the National Guard forces of several states with the militaries of these countries. The Illinois National Guard was partnered with Poland because of the many cultural and ethnic ties shared between Poland and Illinois. Poland is now among the United States' staunchest allies in Europe.

BEST 10 Soldiers will train at Camp Lincoln in Springfield before deploying to Poland for two months to train with Polish forces. Following that training, they will deploy with Polish Soldiers to Afghanistan.

"We've compiled a good group of Soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, providing a wide range of skills sets," Zerbonia said. "I've had extensive experience working with the Polish and Russian military and I feel comfortable with the mission."

But that doesn't mean this rotation will be the same as previous rotations, Zerbonia said.

"Our mission changes as the war changes," said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Sheahan of Moline, the Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge of the BEST 10 team. "We'll be focusing on the transition of handing back power to the Afghan Army and Police, "

The jobs BEST Soldiers perform range from logistics, intelligence, operations, to airspace management. All the while they work jointly with the Polish Army. The team also signs contracts and works with civilian contractors, as well as training the Afghan Army and Police to take more of a leading role in operations.

The most important role of the BEST Soldiers will provide is advising Polish Soldiers on Western military tactics, techniques and procedures.

"Over the past five years, the Polish Army has adopted a more Western mindset, delegating to their NCOs as opposed to officers handling all the affairs," said Sheahan. "The Polish Army is trying to model itself similar to the American military format. Before, the Polish Army wasn't utilizing its NCO core."

Zerbonia echoed this sentiment. "We rely heavily on our NCOs to execute," he said. "We've sent Soldiers from the Regional Training Institute before to show the Polish their usefulness. We'll be taking several E5 (sergeant) and E6 (staff sergeant) Soldiers on this deployment."

Though the team expects challenges, they say they are looking forward to this unique experience.

"I know it will be a challenging deployment, and everyone involved is excited," said Sheahan.

Permalink: http://readme.readmedia.com/Illinois-Guard-Sends-the-Best-to-Afghanistan-with-Polish-Brigade/3151277

Organization Celebrates Shipment of 750,000 Care Packages to Troops


Van Nuys, CA, December 6, 2011 -- Operation Gratitude, the non-profit, volunteer-based organization that sends care packages to troops deployed in harm's way, to their children left behind and to Wounded Warriors recuperating in transition units, will have cause for celebration as the 750,000th package rolls off the assembly line on Saturday, December 17, 2011.

Director of Operations, Rich Hernandez, expects the milestone 750,000th package to hit the assembly line around 11:15 a.m., to the cheers of up to 1,000 volunteers, Military members, legislators, and celebrities.

In addition to standard items and personal letters provided by more than 250 Corporate Sponsors and Friends and tens of thousands of individual donors across the country, "The 750,000th Care Package will include Top Secret Surprises generously donated by our Corporate Partners," exclaimed Carolyn Blashek, who started the organization in 2003. A special delivery of the 750,000th Package is being arranged. Six previous Operation Gratitude milestone packages contained the keys to new vehicles. 
OG Group
Military and political dignitaries, along with celebrities and representatives from many of the organization's Corporate Sponsors, will join the Operation Gratitude volunteers to assemble thousands of troop gifts in addition to the 750,000th Care Package. Delicious product samples and a hearty lunch will be provided by Corporate and local business donors.

Media are invited to attend the Milestone Celebration and the Lunch following the ceremony.

WHAT: Operation Gratitude Volunteers assemble the 750,000th Care Package

WHEN: Saturday, December 17, 2011
Care Package Assembly starts at 9 a.m.
The 750,000th Package Assembly and Celebration will occur: 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

WHERE: California National Guard Armory
17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, CA  91406
Corner of Victory and Louise; parking available on adjacent lot

Volunteers (ages 12 years and older) are welcome to assist in the on-site care package activities.

Financial donations are still needed to help pay the assembly and postage expenses of $15 per package.

Every tax deductible donation of $15 sends another care package, personally addressed to an American hero, and filled with 50+ assorted snack, entertainment and personal care items valued at $100 or more. 


Online donations can be made here: Donate

Donations by check can be made payable and mailed to:
Operation Gratitude
16444 Refugio Road
Encino, CA 91436


About Operation Gratitude

Operation Gratitude annually sends 100,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in harm's way, to their children left behind, and to Wounded Warriors recuperating in transition units. The organization's mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member's face and express to our Armed Forces the appreciation and support of the American people. Each package contains donated product valued at ~$125 and costs the organization $15 to assemble and ship. For safety and security, assembling of packages occurs at the Army National Guard armory in Van Nuys, California. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than 725,000 packages to American Military deployed overseas.  The 750,000th package will be assembled on December 17, 2011.

DES MOINES, IA - With the largest deployment from our state since WWII last year, Iowans are incredibly grateful for our troops who serve our country. To show their gratitude, Destiny Homes is stepping up to honor military families in the state of Iowa by doing something a little different. This Custom Home Builder is building a home in Urbandale and is donating the proceeds to America's Family Coaches, a non-profit marriage ministry in Des Moines, Iowa, to support their military initiative.

"The owners of Destiny Homes believe that it is important to give back to the community. Military families give up so much for us and what AFC is doing to support military families while they are separated is incredible. What better way to support the couples that are apart due to the military service to our country. As a builder, this is an opportunity to use our talents and give something back," says Alan Sprinkle, President of Destiny Homes.

Since 2006 the Rosbergs have been on a mission strengthen military marriages. Whether deployed or stateside, the Rosbergs offer encouragement and practical coaching for military marriages before, during and after deployment through free marriage resources to help them grow and stay connected. Over the past few years, generous donors have provided more than 17,000 free resources for military families. The proceeds from this house will support America's Family Coaches to resource military couples at a critical time when many soldiers are returning from serving overseas. After more than 25 years of serving hundreds of thousands of marriages and families nationally and internationally, there is nothing Gary and Barb are more proud of than serving military families.

"As we serve military families we are doing what we know how to do: help marriages grow strong. But we can't do it alone. Destiny Homes is setting the bar to do what they can do: build a home. As they build the home and America's Family Coaches builds the military families, we will together strengthen our community!" says Gary Rosberg, President and CEO of America's Family Coaches.

The home is located at 4423 163rd Street in Urbandale, and the home is available for viewing on December 11 from 1 to 4 p.m. with Iowa Realty Agent Scott Steelman. For more information on this project, please visit our website at www.americasfamilycoaches.com or contact Angela Ten Clay at 515.334.7482 x 9119 or angela@afcoaches.com.

ABOUT AMERICA'S FAMILY COACHES: Dr. Gary and Barb Rosberg are award-winning authors, popular radio hosts and international speakers. Together, the Rosbergs are co-founders of America's Family Coaches and directly address the needs of marriages today. The Rosbergs are impacting churches, communities and military families worldwide to build healthy marriages and families that last a lifetime.


The best way to thank our veterans and tell them 'good job' is to help them find a good job when they return home.

Federal law requires employers to re-hire National Guard servicemembers when they return from active duty service.  I've always been proud of how seriously Iowa employers take their duty to help re-integrate our returning soldiers back into normal day-to-day life.  But what about those veterans who were out of work when they were called up?

Late this summer, 2,800 members of the Iowa National Guard returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.  In a survey conducted after they returned home, more than 600 of these men and women reported being out of work.  That's the equivalent of an unemployment rate of over 21 percent in this group - nearly four times the Iowa unemployment rate.

Unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans isn't just a problem unique to Iowa.  Nationally, these vets are unemployed at a rate nearly twice the national average.

Creating jobs for these veterans will not only help them, but it will also address the greater unemployment problem in our country.

That's why for several months, I've worked to promote the idea of cutting taxes for employers who hire unemployed veterans who are returning from active duty service.

In August, I introduced the Combat Veterans Back to Work Act, a bill that provides tax credits for employers that hire unemployed veterans.  This idea, which attracted some rare bipartisan support in Congress, was  incorporated into two new tax credits that were signed into law by President Obama last month.

The first, known as the Returning Heroes tax credit, provides up to $5,600 in tax credits for every unemployed veteran hired by an employer.  The second, called the Wounded Warrior tax credit, doubles the existing tax credit for firms that hire unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities.

The bottom line is that these tax credits will help the bottom line of businesses and help get veterans back to work - a win-win for our economy and many brave men and women.

If you're a veteran or a business interested in learning more about these tax credits, I encourage you to contact my Waterloo office at (319) 287-3233.

by Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01)

SPRINGFIELD, IL (11/30/2011)(readMedia)-- Maj. Gen. Dennis L. Celletti, a native of Rock Falls and the Illinois National Guard Assistant Adjutant General - Army, visited Soldiers of the Illinois Army National Guard's 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls, Nov. 23 to 25 at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Celletti was accompanied by State Command Sgt. Maj. Howard Robinson of Olympia Field. The two Illinois National Guard senior leaders were given an overview of the company's convoy operations and served the Soldiers a Thanksgiving meal. The company mobilized in July 2011 and is scheduled to return home in the summer of 2012.

Photo Captions:

Photo submitted by Command Sgt. Maj. Howard Robinson/ (Right) Maj. Gen. Dennis L. Celletti, a native of Rock Falls and the Illinois National Guard Assistant Adjutant General - Army, serves Thanksgiving dinner to Soldiers of the Illinois Army National Guard's 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Nov. 24. Celletti spent three days with the 1644th, touring the camp and receiving an overview of convoy operations.

Photo submitted by Command Sgt. Maj. Howard Robinson/ (Left to right) Maj. Gen. Dennis L. Celletti, a native of Rock Falls and the Illinois National Guard Assistant Adjutant General - Army and Command Sgt. Maj. Howard Robinson of Olympia Field receives an explanation of an improvised explosive detection device from Sgt. Jameel Franklin, of Springfield with the Illinois Army National Guard's 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls, during a visit at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Nov. 24.

Photo submitted by Command Sgt. Maj. Howard Robinson/ Sgt. Jameel Franklin of Springfield, with the Illinois Army National Guard's 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls, shakes hands with Maj. Gen. Dennis L. Celletti, a native of Rock Falls and the Illinois National Guard Assistant Adjutant General - Army, during a visit at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Nov. 23. The company was mobilized in July 2011 and is scheduled to return in the summer of 2012.

Permalink: http://readme.readmedia.com/Major-General-Celletti-visits-Rock-Falls-unit-in-Kuwait-for-Thanksgiving/3130204

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Legislation would allow 12 weeks of job-protected leave for treatment of service-related injuries 


Washington, DC - Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today introduced a bill aimed at strengthening job protections for wounded veterans returning from service overseas.  Braley is the highest ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

The Disabled Veterans Employment Protection Act would provide military and National Guard veterans up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a calendar year to be treated for an injury incurred in or aggravated by military service without having to worry about losing their jobs.  The legislation would also allow injured or disabled veterans to use sick or vacation leave they have accrued to receive pay while getting treatment, but would not require them to do so.

"Federal law protects the jobs of servicemen and women while they're serving our country," Braley said.  "But there are no protections for injured veterans who need to seek treatment for their injuries once they return home.   With thousands of injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, it's time we strengthen protections and allow veterans the ability to seek out the care and treatment they need."


The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) provides that employers must reemploy individuals who have been called to active duty military service and have to be absent from their jobs.  However, the law does not cover protections for treatment these individuals might need after they return from service

Late this summer, 2,800 members of the Iowa National Guard returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.  According to the National Guard, 60 Iowa servicemembers who went on the deployment are currently hospitalized receiving treatment for injuries.  Another 50 servicemembers are receiving outpatient treatment at facilities near their homes.  About 500 Iowans have been wounded during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The Disabled Veterans Employment Protection Act is modeled after the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons like the birth of a child, a serious health condition, or caring for a spouse or child with a serious health condition.

The full text of the bill can be viewed at the following link: http://go.usa.gov/527

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WASHINGTON – The Coast Guard announced Wednesday the launch of its third Sentinel-class, Fast Response Cutter, the William Flores, at Bollinger Shipyards, Lockport, La.

The launch of the William Flores into the waters of Bayou Lafourche marks a production milestone as the Fast Response Cutter readies for sea trials, delivery, crew training and eventual commissioning.

"The Coast Guard's new Fast Response Cutters are national assets, unique to the United States and uniquely equipped to respond to all threats and all events in times of crisis," said Cmdr. Chris O'Neil, chief of media relations for the U.S. Coast Guard.  "The Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters will be capable of speeds in excess of 28 knots and operating in seas up to 18-feet.  Armed with a 25-mm chain gun and four, .50 caliber machine guns,  the speed, stability and firepower of the Fast Response Cutter deliver tremendous lifesaving, law enforcement and homeland security capabilities in the same package.  Like the Island-class patrol boats the Fast Response Cutters replace, the fleet of 58 Sentinel-class cutters will serve as the workhorses of America's littoral, maritime fleet."

Seaman Apprentice William Flores, namesake of the cutter, posthumously received the Coast Guard Medal, the service's highest award for heroism not involving combat, for his unselfish acts and sacrifice Jan. 28, 1980, following the collision between the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn and the tanker Capricorn.  Flores and another crewmember threw life jackets to their shipmates who had jumped into the water.  Later, when his companion abandoned ship as the Blackthorn began to submerge, Flores, who was less than a year out of boot camp, remained behind and used his belt to strap open the life jacket locker door, allowing additional life jackets to float to the surface.  Even after most crewmembers abandoned ship, the 19-year-old Flores remained aboard Blackthorn to assist trapped shipmates and to comfort those who were injured and disoriented. Seaman Apprentice William Ray "Billy" Flores and 22 other Coast Guardsmen perished as the Blackthorn capsized and sank near the entrance of Tampa Bay, Fla.  Twenty seven of his shipmates survived.

After commissioning, the William Flores will be homeported in Miami, with a crew of 24 to conduct alien migrant interdiction operations, port, waterways and coastal security patrols, search and rescue and national defense missions.

Named for enlisted Coast Guard heroes, Fast Response Cutters have an overall length of 154 feet, a beam of 26 feet and are capable of speeds in excess of 28 knots.  The Fast Response Cutter also features a stern launch ramp for rapid and safe deployment of its 7.9-meter small boat.  The William Flores is scheduled to be delivered and commissioned in 2012.

For more information about the Fast Response Cutter visit http://www.uscg.mil/acquisition/sentinel/default.asp or to learn more about the recapitalization of Coast Guard assets visit http://www.uscg.mil/acquisition/programs/pdf/CG9recap.pdf.