June 7, 2011 -- The mood at the Van Nuys National Guard Armory was both celebratory and respectful on June 5 as hundreds of Operation Gratitude volunteers and special guests gathered to assemble care packages for Sailors and Marines assigned to Ronald Reagan Strike Group, and to witness a young Marine Corporal, recently returned from Afghanistan, receive a Victory Vegas 8-Ball Motorcycle promised to him on Christmas Day, 2010.

 

CPL Cheek1

Cpl. Cheek, his wife Chelsea (on left), and Santa Claus flanked by hundreds of Volunteers

Operation Gratitude Volunteer Coordinator, Penny Alfonso summed up the day simply, "It was a day of laughter, tears, and patriotism."  

Cpl. Clancy Colt Cheek gratefully took ownership of the special gift presented to him by Robert Pandya, External Relations Manager of Victory Motorcycles

Cheek, the recipient of Operation Gratitude's 600,000th care package, is a member of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and returned to Camp Pendleton earlier this spring after a deployment in Sangin, Afghanistan. During the deployment, the 3/5, also known as the "Darkhorse" Battalion, endured heavy combat and losses, including the death of Cheek's best friend, 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Alec Catherwood, of Byron, Illinois.

CPL Cheek2

Cpl. Cheek on his new Bike

Pandya told Cheek he was proud to represent Victory Motorcycles and speak on his co-workers' behalf.  "The motorcycle community has always cherished the 'Freedom to Ride,' a privilege guaranteed by the efforts and sacrifice of our heroes in the Military," he said.  "We all thank you for what you, and every member of the Armed Forces have done for those of us lucky enough to live in the United States of America," he said.

 

Cheek expressed his heartfelt thanks to Victory for the motorcycle and to the Operation Gratitude volunteers for their dedication and support.  Responding to a young woman who called him a hero, Cheek recalled the Marines who did not return from Afghanistan.  "I'm no hero," he said. "Heroes are those men who stood beside me in the Valley of Death and gave their lives for freedom."

Operation Gratitude founder, Carolyn Blashek, said Cheek was the perfect person to receive this gift as a representative of all members of the U.S. Military. "Cpl Cheek was humble and incredibly gracious in accepting the Victory Motorcycle," Blashek said. "He spoke to us straight from his heart, without a single written note, and with much passion, conviction, and great thoughtfulness. There was not a dry eye in the place."  

In commemoration of the anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's passing, Michael Reagan, his wife Colleen, and son, Cameron, along with representatives of the Reagan Legacy Foundation participated on the Assembly Line to create care packages for the 5,000 crew members deployed aboard aircraft carrierUSS Ronald Reagan, named in honor of the 40th President of the United States.

ReaganFamily_crpd

Michael Reagan, his family and Reagan Legacy  Foundation Board Members

Reagan, the President's son, read a letter he had received that morning from the Commanding Officer of USS Reagan, Captain T.W. Burke. "Care packages from home are always a welcome surprise and we appreciate everything that Operation Gratitude does to support our Military," Burke wrote.

 

Care packages were also assembled and shipped to the crew of guided-missile destroyer USS Preble and guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, both currently serving in theRonald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.

CheekPres-lite

Councilman Zine presents Certificates to Kilo Co, Victory Motorcycles and Cpl. Cheek

 

Councilman Dennis Zine presented beautiful City of Los Angeles Certificates of Appreciation to Cheek; Reagan; Victory Motorcycles; Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, accepted by Company Commander Captain Nick Johnson and First Sergeant George Melendez, and to Lt. Col. Angel Ortiz, the Commander of the California Army National Guard Armory where the majority of Operation Gratitude's work takes place.  Each certificate eloquently stated the recipients' service and accomplishments deserving of recognition.

More photos of the day's events can be seen here and here

Operation Gratitude volunteers will continue to assemble and ship its Patriotic Drive Care Packages through June.

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 in Military hospitals and 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 and their families 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 640,000 packages to American Military deployed overseas. 

Learn more about Operation Gratitude by visiting:

Web: http://www.OperationGratitude.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/OpGratitude
Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/OperationGratitude
Blog:            http://OpGrat.wordpress.com
YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/OpGrat
Email: OpGrat@gmail.com

GALESBURG, IL (06/06/2011)(readMedia)--

 WHO:

• Illinois National Guard and the Yellow Ribbon program

WHAT:

• Yellow Ribbon Reintegration event for servicemembers targets veterans of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, but is open to all branches and all conflicts/wars.

• Event offers resources for servicemembers and their families following deployment.

WHEN/WHERE:

• June 11 Carl Sandburg College; 2400 Tom L. Wilson Blvd. Galesburg 8 a.m.-9 a.m. registration; 9 a.m-4:30 p.m. event

WHY:

• Approximately 450 Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers recently returned from a one-year deployment to Sinai, Egypt helping enforce a 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

• The Illinois National Guard's goal is to ensure every returning Soldier and Airman receives the training and care they need for a successful reintegration to citizen-Soldier.

• Representatives from several different agencies will be available. Some agencies attending include TRICARE (medical and dental insurance), Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, Internal Revenue Service and Veteran's Health Administration. There will also be several workshops providing guidance and information on issues like marriage after deployment, finances, challenges Soldiers face reuniting with their children and using college education benefits. Counselors will also be available for private consultations.

• Recent statistics indicate only half of veterans that need help actually seek help.

• Approximately 35% of Illinois National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are married.

• Department of Defense (DoD) statistics reveal a 3.5% divorce rate for Army Soldiers following deployment, a statistic that has risen each of the last three years.

• Reintegration is a process that does not happen overnight. It can take several months for a servicemember to feel whole again following a deployment. This is why the Illinois National Guard is dedicated to helping its troops when they return from overseas.

• The Illinois National Guard was one of the first states in the country to start a reintegration program for their servicemembers, with the program growing exponentially since 2007.

• Reintegration events are held in all parts of Illinois so servicemembers do not have to travel far to get valuable information.

• Illinois National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are required to go to two events after they return from overseas.

• Events are open to any servicemember of any branch who recently returned from deployment or veterans that served in previous conflicts/wars and still need assistance.

Become our Facebook Fan!

www.facebook.com/illinoisnationalguard

-30-

Washington, DC - May 25, 2011 - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement after it was reported that Ryan McSweeny, an Iowa Marine from Marion, was injured by a roadside bomb while on combat patrol in Afghanistan:

"My thoughts and prayers go out to Ryan and his family. This has been a very difficult time for all deployed Iowans. My heart goes out to all these brave young men and women and their families."

Three Iowans were killed in Afghanistan in April and several have been injured in May.

###

WARSAW, POLAND (05/27/2011)(readMedia)-- President Barack Obama and twelve Illinois National Guard Soldiers laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Poland Friday. The Illinois troops and Polish Soldiers have been training together on responding to a chemical attack since May 19 as part of the crisis management exercise EPIFAKTOR 2011 in Warsaw, Poland.

Capt. Douglas Coop of Jacksonville, the State Partnership Program Director said the Illinois National Guard received the request to support the President's visit on Tuesday and the 12 troops were happy to assist.

"To meet the President and share with him the Illinois National Guard's cooperation with Poland was the icing on the cake of almost two years of hard work," said Coop.

Since 1993 Illinois Army National Guard and Polish force have trained together as part of the State Partnership Program.

Coop presented Obama with an Illinois National Guard State Partnership Program coin and said Obama expressed remorse about the Chicago Bulls playoff loss and thanked them for their service during their brief visit.

"The President took time to shake each of our hands and visit briefly with use, acknowledging that we're all from his home state," said Coop.

The Illinois Soldiers are part of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) and will return from Poland this weekend.

"Who gets to do this?," said Maj. Michael Eiter of Woodstock with the Joint Force Headquarters. "When I joined the guard I never imagined that I'd be part of something called the State Partnership Program and working with Polish counterparts and have a chance to meet the President."

Illinois and Poland have conducted exercises both in Illinois and Poland for 18 years. Polish forces and Illinois National Guard troops have deployed together to both Iraq and Afghanistan during every Polish rotation into theater.The Soldiers participating in EPIFAKTOR 2011 are from Carol Stream, Chicago, Bismark, Rockford, Granite City, Cottage Hills, Glenarm, Alton, Jacksonville, Chatham and Woodstock.

SPRINGFIELD- Gov. Pat Quinn joined Gold Star families and military supporters to honor the sacrifices that Illinois servicemembers have since Sept. 11, 2001. Quinn unveiled the Portrait of a Soldier Memorial exhibit May 27 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library in Springfield.

"As we approach Memorial Day, we must never forget the contributions our servicemembers have made around the world to ensure America remains strong and free," said Governor Quinn. "We honor their sacrifices and stand with our Gold Star families to make sure we keep the memories of their loved ones alive."

Along with Quinn, Air Force Col. William Cobetto of Hillsboro, Acting Assistant Adjutant General-Air and Director of Staff-Illinois Air National Guard stood with families and reflected on the service and sacrifice of Illinois' servicemembers.

"There have been 235 Illinois servicemembers who have died overseas since 9/11, 34 where Illinois Guardsmen," said Cobetto. "Each of their faces are on these walls and each are remembered here."

Artist Cameron Schilling of Mattoon drew the first Portrait of a Soldier in August 2004, after Army Spc. Charles Neeley, also of Mattoon, was killed in Iraq. Schilling presented the portrait to Neely's parents. Moved by their joy for the portrait Schilling began a project to preserve the memory of the fallen.

"There are no words in our language or any language to express the feeling of loss of the child, spouses and parents who have lost a love one in Iraq and Afghanistan.

photo 1) U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael Camacho, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs/ Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Air Force Col. Cobetto of Hillsboro, Acting Assistant Adjutant General-Air and Director of Staff-Illinois Air National Guard stand with Gold Star families and reflect on the service and sacrifice of Illinois' servicemembers. Quinn unveiled the Portrait of a Soldier Memorial exhibit May 27 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library in Springfield.

Story by Sgt. Michael Camacho, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs

SPRINGFIELD, IL (05/27/2011)(readMedia)-- The life of a service member is never a simple one. Missions, deployments and sacrifice come often in the service of one's country.

For many Illinois' veterans who have served in the U.S. military, their sacrifices bring respect and honor in both life and death.

Approximately 80 Soldiers with Illinois National Guard's Funeral Honors Program are tasked with the solemn duty of performing military honors at the funerals of those who have honorably served in the U.S. military, said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Vocks of Taylorville, the non-commissioned officer in charge of casualty operations with Joint Forces Headquarters for the Illinois National Guard.

"These are the final respects we're allowed to give to our comrades in arms," said Vocks. "It's the military's way of giving back to their own. It is steeped in military customs and traditions, but when it comes down to it, it's taking care of those who have come before us."

The veterans who have served deserve to be honored said Patrick Jockisch of Petersburg, the state coordinator for the Illinois National Guard's Funeral Honors Program.

"The number one purpose of the Funeral Honors Program is to honor our nation's veterans and we do that for all veterans who have served in either war or peace," said Jockisch.

The funeral honors team, the Honor Guard, pay respect to veterans by folding the flag placed on their casket, presenting it to the family of the fallen and then sounding Taps to honor the deceased, said Jockisch. At larger ceremonies they may hold a 21-rifle volley.

The Soldiers who perform the military honors are trained in a comprehensive week-long course and are certified as members of the Honor Guard and part of the Funeral Honors Team, said Staff Sgt. Brandon Page of Marion, the Funeral Honors trainer for the Illinois National Guard. Soldiers are trained how to properly perform the ceremonies and the motions involved.

Page said the Soldiers who become part of the Honor Guard put forth dedication to honoring the fallen.

"They're here for one reason and that's to honor veterans," said Page. "To be in the Honor Guard you have to be the best of the best ... not everyone can do this job."

Page said the Soldiers can be at seven to 10 funerals a week and the nature of the job can be tough. Dealing with death and the fallen can take its toll, but Honor Guard Soldiers know the significance of their mission.

"It's not an easy job," said Jockisch. "Even though the sequences are always the same every day, every day it's a different family, it's a different circumstance. We are the face of the (Illinois National Guard) and we connect with the community and are a part of that community. By laying our nation's and our state's veterans to rest, we're reaching out to that community letting them know we still care and that a Soldier may be fallen but never forgotten."

Older veterans of the World War II, Vietnam and Korea conflicts make the main percentage of the fallen with a small percentage of traditional National Guardsmen and Soldiers who have died overseas in the current operations, said Jockisch.

Any veteran who has been honorably discharged from the U.S. military is eligible to receive military honors at his or her funeral.

The Illinois National Guard's Funeral Honors team performs approximately 300 funeral services a month and performed more than 3,000 funerals in 2010. The Funeral Honors Program works heavily with military supporting groups like the Patriot Riders, the Order of the Purple Heart and other veteran services organizations across the state.

For those interested in more information on military funeral honor services or joining the Illinois National Guard's Honor Guard please contact the State Funeral Honors Office at 217-761-3047.

May 26, 2011 -- Operation Gratitude, the 501(c)(3) Military support charity, and co-sponsor True Religion Brand Jeans® have launched a "Pictures for Patriots" contest designed to encourage students in kindergarten through 12th grade to use their artistic talents to express patriotic support and gratitude for deployed U.S. troops.

 

"The troops love getting kids' artwork in their Operation Gratitude care packages," explained Carolyn Blashek, founder of the organization. "Some decorate their living or work space with it, others save it in a special plP4P Contestace to bring home someday, and a few even carry the drawings with them on all their missions, tucked into their pockets or helmets for good luck and comfort."

Hoping to receive more of such treasures and at the same time discover the perfect drawing for the cover of their annual Operation Gratitude Magazine, published exclusively for deployed troops, Operation Gratitude, in cooperation with True Religion Brand Jeans®, designed a social media-based contest to engage the public's help.

 

Students in K-12 are invited to submit digital images of their drawings from May 25 through June 15 via email to: OpGratMedia@gmail.com. The original  drawings must also be mailed, along with an Entry/Parent Permission Form, to: Pictures for Patriots 2011/Operation Gratitude; 16444 Refugio Road; Encino, California 91436

Operation Gratitude and True Religion Brand Jeans® will choose 10 Finalist drawings P4P Contest2from among all entries submitted. Commencing on June 20, the 10 Finalist drawings will be posted in a "Pictures for Patriots" photo album on Operation Gratitude's Facebook page. Facebook users may then "like" their favorite entry, thereby voting for the drawing they believe is best. One "like" equals one vote. The three drawings with the most votes by the contest's July 3 closing date will be announced as the Grand Prize Winners on July 4 and each Winner will earn a $500 donation to the student's school and an iPod for themselves. The entry with the greatest number of votes will be placed on the cover of the upcoming Operation Gratitude Magazine.

 

Each of the 10 Finalists will receive a pair of True Religion Brand Jeans®, an Operation Gratitude DogTag, and will be featured on the inside pages of the Operation Gratitude Magazine. In addition, each of the 10 Finalists will be assisted in the filing of an application to obtain a U.S. copyright registration for their drawing submission. True Religion Brand Jeans® will select one or more of the drawing submissions to be printed on T-Shirts that will be sold from their retail stores.  A portion of the proceeds from those sales will be contributed to Operation Gratitude.

Complete official "Pictures for Patriots" Rules may be found here. Download and print an Entry Form here.

For those students who otherwise wouldn't be able to volunteer in the armory because they're under age 12 or live too far away, Blashek urged: "This is an ideal opportunity to show their appreciation and support for the troops in a creative and special way!  We hope parents, teachers, scout and youth group leaders will encourage their children to participate in this very patriotic and meaningful activity."

 

"True Religion Brand Jeans® is humbled and honored to participate in this program with Operation Gratitude," said Chief Executive Officer, Jeffrey Lubell. "This is a beautiful and meaningful display of support and appreciation for our deployed service men and women."

May 24, 2011 -- Operation Gratitude today announced that in commemoration of the anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's passing, Michael Reagan, members of his family and representatives of the Reagan Legacy Foundation will join hundreds of volunteers at the California Army National Guard armory on Sunday, June 5, to assemble care packages for the 5,000 crew members deployed aboard aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, named in honor of the 40th President of the United States. Care packages will also be assembled and shipped to the crew of guided-missile destroyer USS Preble and guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, both currently serving in the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.

"During this patriotic time of year -- between Memorial Day and the 4th of July -- we are honored to support the brave men and women of the U.S. Military serving on the namesake ship of a legendary leader, President Ronald Reagan," said Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude. "All of us at Operation Gratitude are inspired by the service of these great Americans and hope our care packages will in some small way express to the Sailors and Marines our feelings of enormous respect and appreciation." 

The USS Ronald Reagan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin B. Gray.)

Christened on March 4, 2001, by former First Lady Nancy Reagan, USS Ronald Reagan deployed from its homeport of San Diego in February. In March, USS Ronald Reagan and others in its Strike Group were the first to arrive and provide disaster relief and humanitarian assistance to the Japanese people affected by the 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

"My family and I can think of no better way to honor the memory of my father than to be with prideful Americans who are volunteering their time to send a special gift of thanks from home to our deployed heroes," said Michael Reagan. Michael and his wife Colleen are regular visitors on board USS Ronald Reagan.

During the formal Program scheduled for 11:30am, Victory Motorcycles' External Relations Manager, Robert Pandya, will present the Motorcycle gifted in Operation Gratitude's 600,000th care package. That milestone package was delivered on Christmas day by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, to an infantryman of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment who at the time was serving a seven-month deployment in the deadly Sangin district of Aghanistan's Helmand province. The 3/5, also known as the "Dark Horse Battalion," experienced heavy combat throughout the deployment, with 25 of its men killed and more than 150 wounded. The 600,000th package recipient, along with his 3/5 comrades, returned to Camp Pendleton in April. The Marine, who received the package containing symbolic keys to the bike, will join the Operation Gratitude volunteers and guests at the armory on Sunday June 5 to receive the Victory Vegas 8-Ball Motorcycle, generously donated by Victory Motorcycles.

The media and members of the public (aged 12 years and older) are invited to attend the day's activities.

WHAT: Operation Gratitude Volunteers assemble Care Packages for the Crew of USS Ronald Reagan, USS Preble and USS Chancellorsville; Presentation of Victory Motorcycle to Marine Corporal

WHEN: Sunday June 5, 2011
           Care Package Assembly starts at 9 a.m.
           Program and Presentation will occur: 11:30 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

May 24, 2011 -- Operation Gratitude today announced that on Sunday, June 5 a Marine infantryman recently returned from Afghanistan will be given the Victory Vegas 8-Ball Motorcycle promised in the organization's milestone 600,000th Care Package assembled in December, 2010.

 

The milestone package was delivered on Christmas day by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, to a Lance Corporal with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, who at the time was serving a seven-month deployment in the deadly Sangin district of Afghanistan's Helmand province.  The name of the Marine who received the 600,000th care package will be revealed at the event on June 5.

Marine1

L-R: Sgt.Maj. Kent, Lt.Col. Morris, LCpl., Gen. Amos in Sangin, AFG; 12/25/10

 

The 3/5, also known as "Dark Horse Battalion," experienced heavy combat throughout the deployment, with 25 of its men killed and more than 150 wounded. The 600,000th package recipient, along with his 3/5 comrades, returned to Camp Pendleton in April. The Marine, who received the package containing symbolic keys attached to a letter describing the bike, was recently promoted to Corporal and will join the Operation Gratitude volunteers and guests at the armory to receive the motorcycle generously donated by Victory Motorcycles.

 

Victory Motorcycles' External Relations Manager, Robert Pandya, will make the presentation. Pandya believes the motorcycle is a symbol of thanks to the men and women who serve in all branches of the Military.

 

"Victory Motorcycles is proud to be part of the 600,000th Operation Gratitude package," said Pandya, adding, "While our motorcycle represents the chance to explore the freedoms of the open road,

it is the hard work and sacrifices of our troops around the world and at home that give everyone in America that opportunity."

 

Among the guests at the California Army National Guard armory on June 5, the anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's passing, will be Michael Reagan, members of his family and representatives of the Reagan Legacy Foundation. They will join hundreds of volunteers at the armory to assemble care packages for the 5,000 crew members deployed aboard aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, named in honor of the 40th President of the United States. Care packages will also be assembled and shipped to the crew of guided-missile destroyer USS Preble and guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, both currently serving in the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.

 

The media and members of the public (aged 12 years and older) are invited to attend the day's activities.


WHAT:
Marine Corporal receives Victory Vegas 8-Ball Motorcycle and Operation Gratitude Volunteers assemble Care Packages for the Crew of USS Ronald Reagan, USS Preble and the USS Chancellorsville

WHEN: Sunday June 5, 2011
Care Package Assembly starts at 9 a.m.
Program and Motorcycle Presentation will occur: 11:30 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

Washington, DC - Today, the House of Representatives unanimously passed Congressman Bruce Braley's bill, the Andrew Connolly Veterans' Housing Act, as part of a larger legislative package. This bipartisan bill willextend a grant program to help injured and disabled veterans retrofit theirhomes after they return from combat. The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate.

"Today is a very important day for many young men and women who return from combat with severe life-altering injuries and find that the fight is far from over," said Rep. Braley. "Veterans like Andrew Connolly return to a completely new life - with new, special needs. I'm very proud that today the House unanimously voted to ensure that these brave veterans have the support they need to adjust to their new lives, reach their full potential, and feel comfortable in their homes."

 

The Andrew Connolly Veterans' Housing Act is named after Andrew Connolly of Dubuque - a constituent of Rep. Braley's who returned from Iraq with a tumor in his spine and is now restricted to a wheelchair. With Rep. Braley's help, Connolly was able to get a grant that allowed him to move into a wheelchair-accessible home.

Earlier this month, Connolly testified on veterans' housing grant programs in front of Rep. Braley's Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

A video of Connolly's testimony is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3haDUPFAPvo

A video of Rep. Braley's commentary is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYKuJ-BRqdE

Both files are available to be downloaded here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/21501138/Braley-Connolly-Video.zip

High-resolution photos from Connolly's testimony are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/repbraley/5684184385/in/set-72157626640156192/

# # #

Pages