Nearly 440 Illinois National Guard Soldiers Return from a Yearlong Deployment; Story by Spc. Chasity Johnson, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office

MILAN, IL (05/15/2011)(readMedia)-- The Illinois Army National Guard held ceremonies May 14 in Milan, Galesburg and Macomb, to welcome home approximately 440 Soldiers who spent a year serving in Sinai, Egypt.

The sky was overcast, rain was drizzling and the temperature was approximately 50 degrees, but that didn't discourage family, friends and supporters of the servicemembers from attending the outdoor event in Milan.

"I'm so excited to see my son that I can hardly stand it," said Debbie England of Milan, mother of 1st Lt. Drew England of Milan, with Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery in Milan.

"We are so proud of him and what he does," said England, as she stood smiling in the rain surrounded by members of her family who were holding colorful signs in honor of their Soldier's arrival home. "We're excited to welcome him back."

The Soldiers mobilized in May 2010 as a part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), the international peacekeeping force oversees the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

"My Soldiers were observing, reporting and verifying the compliance of the treaty," said Lt. Col. Maurice Rochelle of Flossmoor, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery commander.

A sergeant in the 123rd said he enjoyed the opportunity to serve overseas with Soldiers he enlisted during his time as a recruiter, but he he wasn't prepared for the emotional toll the separation from his family would have on him.

"It was really hard being away from my family," said Master Sgt. Brian Habel of Milan, with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery in Milan. "I never knew how hard it was on other people who have deployed until I did it myself. Being greeted by my family at this ceremony is all I could have asked for."

Maj. Gen. Dennis Celletti of Springfield, the Assistant Adjutant General-Army, Illinois National Guard, was in attendance at the ceremony in Milan to greet Soldiers and their families.

"Every time I participate in a welcome home ceremony it makes me proud to see all of the families come together," said Celletti. "It didn't matter that it was a rainy, cloudy day. The families were overjoyed as they greeted their families."

Washington, DC - May 13, 2011 - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) introduced a bill to help veterans who return from combat and are facing foreclosure stay in their homes. The Protecting Veterans' Homes Act would protect veterans from being foreclosed upon by banks and would give returning soldiers time to get their finances in order after long deployments.

"Our veterans often return from combat only to face new challenges," said Rep. Braley. "Whether it's an injury or a financial crisis caused by long deployments and time off from their civilian jobs, our veterans deserve to know that we're standing up for them. This bill will give our soldiers enough time to get back on their feet and get their finances in order before being kicked out of their homes. This is the least we can do for the brave men and women who serve this country."

Currently, similar protections for veterans are set to expire in December of 2012. Rep. Braley's bill would make these protections permanent and would extend the grace period from nine months to a full year for veterans returning from deployments.


Homecoming Ceremony Set for May 14 for Units in Milan, Galesburg and Macomb

MILAN , IL (05/11/2011)(readMedia)-- Approximately 440 Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers who served in Sinai, Egypt assisting with the 1979 Egypt and Israel peace treaty agreement, will return to Illinois this weekend. A homecoming ceremony for units with 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery Regiment in Milan will take place at 10:00 a.m. May 14 at armories in Milan, Galesburg and Macomb.

The Soldiers mobilized in May 2010 as part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO). The international peacekeeping force oversees the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. For three decades the MFO has carried out its mission and has proven successful. The desire of peace on the part of both Israel and Egypt, combined with the effectiveness of the MFO, has resulted in a durable and lasting state of peace between the two nations.

"Our Soldiers did an outstanding job accomplishing their mission," said Lt. Col. Maurice Rochelle of Flossmoor, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery commander. "There were no major accidents, incidents or casualties during our deployment and we succeeded in every facet of our mission. I am proud of the work these Soldiers have done representing Illinois and their families should be proud of them as well."

The Milan-based 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery Regiment includes the Forward Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery in Milan; Headquarters, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery in Milan; Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery in Milan; Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery in Macomb and Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery in Galesburg.

This is the first time the battalion has deployed as a single unit. While the mobilization included units from northwest Illinois, Soldiers are from all areas of Illinois.

WASHINGTON, DC- Senators Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced legislation today that would authorize the establishment of a memorial in Washington, DC, to recognize African American patriots who fought for the United States during the Revolutionary War.

According to the Daughters of the American Revolution, over 5,000 African Americans, including over 800 from Connecticut, served as soldiers or sailors for the U.S. during the Revolutionary War.

This bill was inspired by the work of Maurice Barboza, a Connecticut native who, after discovering that a distant relative of his had fought for the American forces, has passionately fought for these patriots to receive the recognition they deserve.  Barboza has also founded the National Mall Liberty Fund, DC, a private nonprofit organization that will be entirely responsible for raising the funds needed to construct the memorial in Washington.

The legislation was previously introduced in the 111th Congress by former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), along with Senator Grassley.

Grassley co-sponsored similar legislation more than two decades ago.  During the 1980s, a group of young Iowans helped organize an initial push for such a memorial.  An African American Revolutionary War patriot named Cato Mead who originally was from Connecticut spent his final years in Southeast Iowa, and there is a monument dedicated to Mead in the Montrose Cemetery in Lee County, Iowa.

"The important role that many African Americans played during the Revolutionary War is too often overlooked," Lieberman said.  "This memorial will honor these patriots' sacrifice and ensure that this important part of our nation's history is not forgotten."

"The nation's capital is an appropriate place to honor the part that African Americans played in the American revolution," Grassley said.  "A memorial will broaden Americans' understand of the diversity of the patriots who helped to secure America's independence," Grassley said.


Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is a requester of a Government Accountability Office report released today that found that the Department of Veterans Affairs has inadequate procedures to protect the safety of veterans who receive care using medical equipment and supplies at Veterans Affairs' hospitals.  Grassley made the following comment on the report, which is available here.

"We were all reminded over the weekend how military men and women risk their lives to protect our safety and freedom.  The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to step up training and institute new procedures to make sure medical equipment is sanitized and used the way it's supposed to be.  The agency has a double duty to take care of veterans' health care and make sure medical practices aren't putting veterans' lives at risk."

Washington, DC - (May 2, 2011) Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to review current Department of Defense policies that deal with sexual assault and domestic violence and use his authority to implement provisions of Braley's recently introduced Holley Lynn James Act.

"Military studies and news reports suggest that therate of sexual assault in the military is unconscionably high, and that as many as one in three military women experience sexual assault during their career in the service. That's unacceptable," said Rep. Braley. "I want to make sure the President recognizes the need to address this crisis, to ensure that charges of sexual assault and domestic violence are treated seriously, and that the rights of victims are protected."

Last month, Rep. Braley introduced the Holley Lynn James Act to improve the oversight of sexual assault and domestic violence policy in the military. The bipartisan bill is named after Holley Lynn James, a constituent of Rep. Braley who was killed by her husband while both were in the service. James had filed complaints against her husband, who was supposed to be restricted to his barracks the night he murdered her.

Reports from the Government Accountability Office suggest that the Department of Defense still has difficulty in tracking and reporting domestic violence cases and has inconsistent practices in addressing these cases.

Rep. Braley also recently introduced the bi-partisan Support for Survivors Act that would require the military to preserve records connected with cases of sexual trauma and assault.

A copy of Rep. Braley's letter is available here:


Introduces Andrew Connolly Veterans' Housing Act

Washington, DC - (May 2, 2011) Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) introduced abill to help injured and disabled veterans retrofit their homes after they return from combat. 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 to move into a home that allowed him to get around in a wheelchair.

"Our soldiers deserve our support on and off the battlefield," said Rep. Braley. "For many young men and women who return from combat with severe life-altering injuries, the fight is far from over. Veterans like Andrew return to a completely new life - with new, special needs. We must ensure that they have the support they need to adjust to their new lives and feel comfortable in their homes."

Many veterans face severe injuries and have special needs after they return fromcombat. Rep. Braley's bill extends a crucial program that helps veterans adapt and modify the homes where they reside to meet these special needs.

Tomorrow, Connolly will testify on veterans' housing grant programs in front of Rep. Braley's Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

# # #

April 27, 2011

Washington, DC - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement after officials reported that an Iowa National Guard soldier fromDubuque was injured by accidental gunfire in Afghanistan:

"My thoughts and prayers go out to Cody and his family - and I know we're all pulling for him as he begins his recovery at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. This has been an incredibly difficult month for all Iowans and the entire National Guard family. My heart is with all these brave young men and women and their loved ones."

Three Iowans have been killed this month in Afghanistan.

# # #

SPRINGFIELD, IL (04/11/2011)(readMedia)-- The Illinois National Guard Officer Candidate School (OCS) is changing the way it recruits, mentors and trains future leaders by making officer recruiting and training a state-wide priority and not just an OCS priority.

Most Soldiers are familiar with the term Gold Rush, a program where all Soldiers who have at least 60 hours of college are required to attend a two-day program for officer recruiting. These weekends were often far from home and Soldiers were required to attend even if they had no desire to become an officer.

The OCS program has grown through recent change; involving more unit level communication and raising the number candidates in training with Soldiers interested in a career as an officer.

"We are on pace to have 178% increase in the number of officers we commission this year over last year," said Maj. Benjamin Shakman of Springfield, the 129th Regimental Training Institute's (RTI) training officer. "Our 56-11 class is track to be one of the biggest in recent memory."

Seventy-four candidates are in the phase 0 program with the possibly of six more Soldiers coming into the program.

The new program allows commanders to identify Soldiers in their units they feel will make a good officer. This lets units take ownership in the people they send off to the program.

"When units know they will see these Soldiers again, and they are able to maintain visibility of the Soldier throughout the length of program it motivates them to really take the time to find qualified candidates to send through the process" said

Under the old system once a Solider enrolled in OCS they often did not know what their unit of assignment or basic branch would be till they were close to graduating from the program.

"(Now) when a Soldier leaves for OCS, the company, battalion, brigade and state are all tracking the same thing. They will know when the Soldier will complete the program, where he is going and when he will be at drill. This is a great help to commanders in the field, so they know and will not have to hope or guess when their needs will be met for leadership within their unit."

This transparency is not only limited to tracking of Soldiers going through the program, and what their

basic branch and assignments will be, but it also includes regular updates after drills on what the candidates are doing in training.

"The main reason I am interested in the program now is, I am able to pick the branch I want, and I will know where and what I will be doing before I commit a year to the program, and that is very important to me," said Sgt. Catherine Sanagursky of Springfield, a prospective officer candidate.

Shakman said the driving force behind the changes was due to the decline of Soldiers in OCS.

"Maj. Seth Hible, the OCS commander and I, who are both OCS graduates, tried to look at the program and figure out where we needed to improve and what will work best to train Soldiers and successfully get them through the program."

One of the problems they found was making Soldiers wait till March to start the program. By making people wait to start the program it often create conflicts with starting the program.

Soldiers can now sign up for OCS at any time and start preparing for the program as soon as they make the commitment. There is now a three-section program for Soldiers to prepare them for the stress of phase 1 of training.

"We have found that land navigation and (physical training) to be the biggest stumbling blocks for potential candidates," said Shakman.

The time Soldiers spend in the program is now put to good use. Soldiers spend time focusing on land navigation, physical training and leadership training. The sections are not dependent on each other and a Soldier can come in any time to start training for the future.

"This gives us time evaluate Soldiers strengths and their challenges, and it will give the Soldiers time to brush up on any weaknesses they have before leaving for phase 1."

The RTI and OCS program have been encouraging commanders to participate in drill weekends with the officer candidates.

"We had a brigade commander come to our last drill to do PT with our candidates," said Shakman. "In the past, this level of unit involvement rarely happened."

When candidates see colonels and generals getting involved in making them leaders, that sense of importance to the Illinois National Guard only drives them to succeed and complete the program because they know many people are depending on them to graduate, said Shakman.

Brigade and battalion commanders will show up to drill and talk to their future soldiers. This makes Soldiers feel needed and they will find the drive to stay and complete the program.

Memorial Recognizes Illinois National Guard Soldier Killed in Afghanistan; Story by Sgt. Charlie Helmholt, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

AVISTON, IL (04/11/2011)(readMedia)-- Amidst the Midwest's many country roads and corn fields, there is a very unique place that sits just outside of the southern Illinois town of Aviston. There, tucked away seemingly in the middle of nowhere, is the aptly named Hidden Lake Winery.

The winery, which opened in 2005, has played host to many ceremonies that exploit the establishments natural beauty, its elegance and charm. Recently this business sent a message to local military and civilians that they are all about red, white and blue.

April 8 and running three days through April 10, winery owner Dale Holbrook and general manager Missy Shirley decided to host a Military Appreciation Weekend and a dedication service to pay homage to Illinois' fallen warriors.

The event centered around Saturday's ceremony when a memorial to honor those veterans who have given their lives was unveiled. A tribute wall adorned with plaques, engraved with the various names and ranks of the fallen.

In the corner of the wall lies the memorials' main attraction, a life-size statue sculpted by Holbrook in the image of Clinton County's own Staff Sgt. Joshua Melton of Carlyle.

"I want this to honor Josh as both a dedicated Soldier and a man who loved his life, his family and his friends," said Holbrook.

Many people in Clinton County remember the tragic death of Melton, an Illinois Army National Guard Soldier from 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment in Marion. Melton died after an improvised explosive device detonated in Kandahar, Afghanistan in June 2009.

"Everyone around here knew him. He would've helped anybody and he didn't have one enemy," said Richie G. Holtgrave, Melton's cousin.

Speakers at the event on April 9 included Maj. Gen. William L. Enyart of Belleville, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, State Senator Kyle McCarter, Holbrook and many family and friends of Illinois servicemembers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

"Josh Melton was a true representative of Clinton County, and of the people of Clinton County. He was a patriot, he was a volunteer," said Enyart.

Similar stories abounded throughout the day from those closest to the veterans.

One in every 25 men in the United States lost their life 150 years ago in the Civil War. Contrast that to today when only one in 1,000 men bear the brunt of the ongoing wars, said Enyart.

This is not only telling as to how brave these men and women of the armed forces are, but how much they deserve not to be forgotten.

This ceremony was about remembering those that have died serving their country. Grief and emotion were apparent as a friend or family member spoke about their Soldier who perished. However, when the speaker finished memorializing, many times they smiled and seemed much happier just to have been able to share with others a little about their hero.

There were more than 650 guests who attended April 9 and April 10 to honor the men and women in uniform.

Other guests in attendance included the Illinois Patriot Guard who brought with them their Fallen Heroes Traveling Memorial Wall, Miss Illinois Teen USA Paige Higgerson, the St. Louis Rams cheerleaders, Poison cover band Posin, representatives from both the American Legion and the VFW, and musical performers Kerry Steinmann and Stephen Koritta.

Koritta wrote and performed a song during Saturday's ceremony to mark the occasion entitled "Central Standard Time."

Although Melton's life was taken, his memory will now stand in stone for countless years, and his deeds will surely serve to inspire those who hear his story.

For video: