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.

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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: http://www.dvidshub.net/video/112503/illinois-soldiers-statue

LOVES PARK, IL (04/04/2011)(readMedia)-- Several Loves Park VFW members had a chance to ride in an Illinois Army National Guard Blackhawk April 2. The event's timing held special significance, as the Department of Defense (DoD) has recognized this year as the 50-year anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War.

"This felt pretty familiar," said Jim Puckett of Loves Park, a member of the Loves Park VFW and former Marine Sgt. who served in Da Nang province, Vietnam, as a member of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. Puckett said he spent his fair share of time in a helicopter.

"I was only eighteen at the time," he said. "It was an eye-opening experience."

Puckett, who is also the Loves Park police chief, served as a squad radio operator in the Infantry during Vietnam.

"It was scary, but I remember it being a beautiful country," he said.

Retired Army Spc. Marvin Matthees of Loves Park shared Puckett's feelings.

"It was a scary time; there were a lot of bad aspects," he said.

Matthees, who served as a crew chief and door gunner on a UH1D helicopter with the 336th Assault Helicopter Company, was responsible for putting Soldiers on the ground, making supply runs and performing maintenance on the aircraft.

"We were pretty busy," he said. "We got mortared a lot."

Matthees said his first night in Saigon was a memorable one.

"We had just laid down in our bunks when we got hit by a mortar attack," he recalled. "It was one heck of a wakeup call."

Matthees said he was amazed at how far the military's equipment had come.

"Things are a lot more advanced now," he said. "I think the training is a little more extensive too."

There have been other positive changes, Puckett said.

"Definitely being able to stay in touch more with loved ones was a major change," he said.

Matthees agreed.

"I was married right before I left and my daughter was born while I was overseas," he said.

While Matthees said it was very hard for him, his wife and daughter made it all worthwhile.

"Pamela stuck with me through the whole thing," he said.

Puckett said the day's activities reminded him of how much today's military men and women sacrifice, and how proud he is of them.

"My hat's off to them," he said. "They're doing a fantastic job. We support them 100 percent."

In fact, Puckett was recognized by the DoD as a Patriotic Employer for his treatment of National Guard Soldiers within his department.

"In our department right now we have a guy getting ready to go over," he said. "Nothing has changed; these guys are the ones in harm's way. I think the Guard is doing a great job. How can you not support your troops, when they're the ones keeping us free?"

Matthees agreed and said "We all go do our duty. I was proud to serve."

Puckett said he had nothing but good things to say about his time in service.

"I would have no problem going back in right now," he said. "I loved doing what I did and serving my country."

The flight also included several teachers from the area who will take their experiences back to the classroom, sharing the importance of military history with their students.

Photo 1/ Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rob Fafoglia, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/

Several members of the Loves Park VFW wait to receive their pre-flight briefing before an orientation flight April 2. Several of the VFW's members are veterans of the Vietnam War. The Department of Defense is recognizing 2011 as the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War, as 1961 marks the year the first full units were deployed to Vietnam.

Photo 2/ Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rob Fafoglia, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Members of the Loves Park VFW receive a pre-flight briefing before their orientation flight on April 2. Several members of the VFW are veterans of the Vietnam War. The Department of Defense is recognizing 2011 as the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War, as 1961 marks the year the first full units were deployed there.

For Video go to: http://www.dvidshub.net/video/111748/vietnam-veteran-flight

FORT BENNING, GA. (03/30/2011)(readMedia)-- Tension split the early morning fog as Soldiers' voices and crunching footsteps in the darkness guided the way to the All-Army Small Arms and Long Range (Sniper) Championships, March 20 to 27 at Fort Benning, Ga.

The Illinois National Guard Competitive Marksmanship Team used its training, discipline and drive to place third among all 48 teams with one Soldier taking first-place overall in the small arms event and one Soldier winning first-place in both sniper events with the highest aggregate score.

"There is no other Army event that brings together so many military occupational specialties, branches and components into one place," said Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Hardy, the senior enlisted advisor of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. "The skills you have demonstrated here during this competition are the skills you will take back to your units to raise the Army's standards in marksmanship and battlefield readiness."

The Illinois National Guard Competitive Marksmanship Team includes five Soldiers, who at their first championship showed Illinois has some of the best marksman in the military. The "A" team consisted of Warrant Officer Candidate Kyle Gleason of Lincoln, team captain and assigned to Marseilles Training Site Detachment in Marseilles; Sgt. 1st Class David Perdew of Astoria, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 44th Chemical Battalion in Macomb; Staff Sgt. Tracy Mix of Marseilles, Company A, 33rd Brigade Support Troop Battalion; Staff Sgt. Bill Thorpe of Millstadt, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion,130th Infantry Battalion in Marion and Sgt. Terry Pody, team coach of Machesney Park, Marseilles Training Site Detachment.

It was the largest turnout in 18 years with more than 300 Soldiers, Airmen and cadets taking part in eight days of competitive shooting.

Soldiers from across the country were invited to perform in two back-to-back championships. The first is the six-day small-arms championship of 12 individual and eight team matches. The second tournament is the two-day, long-range (sniper) championship, governed by two separate matches shot from 800, 900 and 1,000 yards with M-24 sniper rifles.

"For a competitive marksman, consistently applying the fundamentals and achieving success on the range translates to achieving success in anything you do whether on the battlefield or other walks of life," said Hardy. "The positive pressure of this competition forces a Soldier to correctly apply the fundamentals in a way that simple qualification cannot. The critical importance of basic and advanced marksmanship and the value of training Soldiers so they can deliver accurate and effective fire cannot be understated. It makes a significant impact in raising the Army's overall combat readiness."

Prior to the All-Army championships, the Illinois National Guard Competitive Marksmanship team started with a five-day training session in Quincy on a 500-yard known-distance range followed by an additional three-day train-up in Tullahoma, Tenn., with 64 other National Guard Soldiers from various states.

"These are some of the best guys I've ever worked with," said Pody. "It is a privilege to coach Soldiers that set the standard for leadership and marksmanship wherever we go. They all devote personal time and resources into this team and their level of dedication and desire to win is unmatched."

Each tournament offers a series of scenarios that are not found in other military marksmanship events. Combined arms lanes required competitors to crawl in sand under barbed wire and fire upon a variety of different targets while running. Each event is choreographed to present a stress level paralleled to a true combat scenario.

Rather than paper targets simulating various distances, known-distance range scenarios are used to provide the actual distance between shooters and targets. Shooters must adapt to factors that come into play at actual distances such as wind fluctuation and change in bullet trajectory.

Multi-gun stages test shooters' ability to transition between rifle and pistol against various target sizes. While on the move, shooters switch from weapon to weapon, reloading and changing positions as they engage targets.

Some of the more difficult matches consist of a one-and-a-half and a two-mile run in full combat gear prior to target engagements. Physical conditioning and accurate marksmanship fundamentals are a challenging mixture, which simulate real-life scenarios.

"Pure combat stress is the purpose of these scenarios," said Gleason. "You have to run two miles in all your gear, rush to get on the firing line, then you need to control your entire body to get accurate shots. They want to test us under extreme physical stress, simulating firing in combat. They implement the time limit and combat gear to see how we do against all the outside factors of shooting well."

The Illinois team placed in the top 10 in all eight team matches. Perdew was the first first-time shooter, Perdew, to ever win the All-Army Small Arms and All-Army Sniper event in the same year. Perdew was awarded a Secretary of the Army M-1 service rifle for winning the first-place overall novice individual championship. He later swept the Long Range (Sniper) Championship by winning first-place in both events with the highest average score, for this he was awarded a customized AR-10 assault rifle. Additional prizes, coins and awards were distributed among the team for excellence in the tournament, placing third amongst all 48 teams in the highly sought after All-Army Team Aggregate Championship Match.

"This has all been a little bit of a surprise and it is still sinking in," said Perdew. "I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to represent my state and consider it an honor to be here."

Many Soldiers train all year to prepare for the All-Army Competition. Prior to each competition, competitors are required to complete mandatory small-arms training.

"The All-Army Marksmanship Championships are essential, for and geared to, providing combat readiness," said noncommissioned officer in-charge of the match Sgt. 1st Class Richard Merrill, of Nashville, Mich., U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. "It provides Soldiers throughout the Army the chance to enter a competition setting where they can learn more about precision marksmanship, shoot from longer distances thanthey normally would, take that knowledge back to their units providing better-trained Soldiers for a better-trained military."

Every inch of measurement and second in time distinguishes a win from a loss amid the level of competitiveness and skill at the All-Army matches. With every site picture, breath and trigger squeeze, performance during those crucial moments creates individual and team champions.

"We certainly have openings for new shooters and we want as many Soldiers as possible to come down to The Adjutant General match," said Pody. "None of America's enemies have ever been killed by a baseball, football, basketball or golf ball. That will always be the job of a skilled marksman."

Story by Army Sgt. Adam Fischman, Illinois National Guard Joint Force Headquarters

WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), leaders of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, today asked the Defense Department to provide testimony at an upcoming hearing on synthetic drugs known as "K2" or "Spice," among other names.

The drugs are marketed as harmless, when in fact they are dangerous, and the deceptive marketing and easy availability have made them attractive to young consumers, including members of the military. Recent reports indicate increased disciplinary action by the Defense Department among members of the armed forces due to synthetic drug use.  The senators asked the Defense Department to provide written testimony for a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control on April 6, 2011, titled, "The Dangers of Synthetic Cannabinoids and Stimulants."

Earlier this month, Grassley, Feinstein and fellow senators introduced legislation to ban the chemicals used to make K2.  The legislation is called the Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011 and the David Mitchell Rozga Act, S. 605, named for the 18-year-old Iowan who took his own life soon after using K2 purchased from his local shopping mall. The father of David Rozga, Michael Rozga, will testify at the upcoming hearing.

Grassley is Co-chairman and Feinstein is Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.  Both senators serve on the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the K2 legislation.  Grassley is ranking member of the committee.

The text of the Grassley-Feinstein letter to the Defense secretary is available here.


Washington, DC - March 25, 2011 - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement after White House spokesperson Jay Carney was asked about Rep. Braley's letter calling for an accounting of the Libyan conflict. According to USA Today, Carney replied to reporters, "there are contingency funds...for this kind of thing." Today Rep. Braley said:

"Yesterday I asked for accountability on the question of how much this conflict is costing us, and I have yet to see a clear response from the White House. The fact that funds for contingency military operations exist doesn't answer the question of how much we're spending, and will continue to spend, in Libya. I'm not the only one asking these questions - the American people are demanding answers too. And the President must give Congress and all taxpayers an accurate answer."

Yesterday, Rep. Braley sent a letter to President Obama asking for a full accounting of the Libyan conflict and the costs to taxpayers. Speaker Boehner sent a similar letter to the President. Rep. Braley has previously called for a full accounting of the human and financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A copy of Rep. Braley's letter is available here: http://go.usa.gov/2K2

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SPRINGFIELD, IL (03/24/2011)(readMedia)-- In 2007, March 25 was recognized as National Medal of Honor day. Every year since then it has been the official day that honors the servicemembers of the U.S. military who's actions of valor inspired generations and the nation.

While the day was made official only three years ago, the legacy of the Medal of Honor and the servicemembers who were awarded it span more than 150 years of Illinois history.

President Abraham Lincoln, a veteran of the Illinois Militia, signed a bill issuing the highest military decoration on July 12, 1862. He called it the Medal of Honor. The medal stands as a symbol of the bravery and selflessness individuals display in combat.

There are many aspects that link today's military to the military that existed during the Revolutionary War. The characteristics that remain in the Army today are the core values loyalty, duty, respect, selfless-service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

According to military regulation the Medal of Honor is awarded by the President in the name of Congress to a person in the U.S. military who distinguishes himself or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States. Military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his comrades and must have involved risk of life.

There are many examples in Illinois like 1st Sgt. Johannes S. Anderson of Finland, who entered service from Chicago, assigned the Illinois National Guard's Company B, 132nd Infantry, 33rd Division, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions at Consenvoye, France during World War I.

His citation reads "While his company was being held up by intense artillery and machinegun fire, First Sergeant. Anderson, without aid, voluntarily left the company and worked his way to the rear of the (machinegun) nest that was offering the most stubborn resistance. His advance was made through an open area and under constant hostile fire, but the mission was successfully accomplished, and he not only silenced the gun and captured it, but also brought back with him 23 prisoners."

Anderson was one of many heroes that served in the Illinois National Guard or Militia who received the medal for valor in the battlefield. His medal among many other artifacts can be seen at the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield.

The Army regulation recognizes the incontestable proof of the performance of the service will be exacted and each recommendation for the award of this decoration will be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.

All of the men who received the Medal of Honor have done just that. The Medal of Honor is presented to those who make a major sacrifice and some who make the ultimate sacrifice. Those who were killed in action were awarded the medal posthumously.

As President George W. Bush said regarding the Medal of Honor, "Citations are also written in the most simple of language, needing no embellishment or techniques of rhetoric. They record places and names and events that describe themselves. The medal itself bears only one word and needs only one, valor."

Illinois has produced many Medal of Honor recipients beginning with the Civil War.

2011 Is the 50th Anniversary of the Start of the Vietnam; Story by Staff Sgt. Rob Fafoglia, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

QUINCY, IL (03/17/2011)(readMedia)-- There have been many events which defined the United States as a nation. Whether positive or negative, all have shaped America's history. One of those events was the Vietnam War. The Department of Defense is recognizing 2011 as the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War. In 1961 the first full units were deployed to Vietnam.

Seven years after the start of the war, in 1968, one Illinois Army National Guard unit was activated to help fellow American troops, who were fighting to keep the entire infrastructure of South Vietnam from collapsing. Spc. William Twaddle and Spc. Charles Waters, both retired members of the Illinois National Guard's 126th Supply and Service Company from Quincy, remember the call-up well.

"I was working for the fire department at the time," said Twaddle, a 25-year veteran of the Quincy Fire Department. "They called me up and asked how I'd like an all-expense paid trip to Chicago."

The unit initially deployed 30 men to Chicago on April 6, 1968, for state active duty, to help distribute rations to other Illinois National Guard units working riot control during the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These men were recalled April 11, when the 126th Soldiers discovered through the Chicago Tribune they were headed overseas.

"The Chicago Tribune knew before we did," said Waters, also a Quincy native. "They called us up and asked if we knew we were on the list to go."

On Sept. 19, roughly 129 members of the 126th landed in Chu Lai, Vietnam, where they were assigned to the 23rd Supply and Transportation Battalion, Americal Division. Their first few days in country gave them a taste of things to come. Heavy shelling greeted them on the first night, made even worse by the fact they had not yet been issued weapons to return fire.

Waters was one of the first Soldiers to pull perimeter guard duty during his second night in Chu Lai.

Upon arriving at his post, he said he lost his balance and fell out of the back of the transport truck.

"I remember lying on my face in the rain and mud thinking, 'Well this is it, I'm here,'" said Waters.

The 126th had a multitude of duties, including overseeing the transportation and issuance of the battalion's food, clothing, fuel, equipment and vehicles.

"Anything that had to do with supply and services came through our unit," said Twaddle, a company clerk. "We provided services for over a hundred units. I know we went through several thousand gallons of petroleum a day."

Twaddle did an array of tasks, performing administrative duties, updating personnel records and unit history, dealing with unit retention issues and emergencies, doing correspondence work for the commander and even issuing pay and Vietnamese currency.

"We had so many talented guys over there," said Waters. "It was such a diversified group."

The unit included Soldiers from every walk of life. The 126th's members held many different civilian jobs, including welders, construction workers, landscapers, woodworkers, butchers, law enforcement, truck drivers, architects, engineers and even a barber, who charged 25 cents for a haircut in Chu Lai.

"These were just regular guys doing their specialized jobs every day," said Twaddle.

Waters echoed this sentiment.

"That's why most of us signed up, to do our jobs," he said. "We were very dedicated."

Whether refueling trucks and helicopters, traveling to town each day to pick up and pay the civilians who worked on post, or building their very own USO club for entertainers to perform, both men agreed the 126th stayed busy and positive.

"Morale was always high," said Twaddle. "We were so close as a National Guard unit."

While many things about the military have remained the same throughout the years, some have changed drastically. Communication is one of the more notable aspects, said Twaddle.

"With e-mail and computers, communication is instant," he said. "I called home to (his wife) one time."

Waters said he also called home only once, but tried making tapes to talk with his family at home.

"My family would ask me, 'What is that I hear in the background?'" he said. "I didn't want to tell them it was explosions."

Both men said they wrote hundreds of letters, numbering them to keep some sort of sequence. A delay could cause undo worry to friends and family, they said.

The 126th was deployed to Vietnam for almost a year, and served with great distinction, earning praise and

decorations for their efforts. Three National Guardsmen were awarded the Bronze Star for their heroism in defending supply convoys. On Aug. 16, 1969, when the 126th Soldiers returned, they came home to a hero's welcome in Quincy.

Twaddle admits their homecoming was different than many other Soldiers received.

"When we left, it was only our immediate families," he said. "When we got back, there were four to five thousand people of Quincy waiting to greet us, flags and all."

Mary Twaddle, William's wife, said she remembers the day fondly.

"It was wonderful when he first came home," she said. "It was like a second honeymoon for us. It was just a joyous, happy time."

During a public ceremony at the local park, then Illinois Governor Richard Oglive spoke to the assembled Soldiers, their families, friends, and the people of Quincy. His words summarized the 126th's sacrifices in the service of their country.

"As distinguished as your service has been, it was not unexpected," said Oglive. "For the record your fathers and grandfathers wrote before you has taught us that uncommon valor is indeed a common virtue among the men of the National Guard."

For Video go to: http://www.dvidshub.net/video/109846/hallmarks-vietnam

SPRINGFIELD, IL (03/15/2011)(readMedia)-- As a former New Orleans resident, Mari Richardson of Athens saw the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina first hand. Since then, she decided to volunteer with the American Red Cross. She has been with the Red Cross for two years and has worked a lot with the Illinois National Guard. Richardson now works as a liaison between the Red Cross and Illinois National Guard's Family Readiness Group (FRG), keeping families of deployed Soldiers in contact with their loved ones.

"When my husband deployed during Vietnam, the FRG didn't exist and we really needed something like it," said Richardson.

She also helps with a program called Mail for Heroes, which sends holiday cards to deployed troops overseas. Most recently, she worked with a Girl Scout troop to send personalized Valentine's Day cards to servicemembers.

Richardson's work does not stop with the FRG and holiday cards. She also helps facilitate the annual ceremony for fallen Illinois National Guard Soldiers and Airmen at the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield. This year's event will be May 14.

"I lost two uncles during war and I saw how devastated and hurt my grandmother was; it has stuck with me all my life," Richardson said.

Richardson said she loves what she does for the Army and feels very passionate about her experience. Her hope is to build a strong unit, to contribute to "anything new which might improve the past."

Richardson's job with the Red Cross has earned her a lot of respect throughout the Illinois National Guard community.

"Mari is so modest and does so much more than most people realize," said Annette Chapman of Atlanta, Illinois National Guard State Family Readiness support assistant. "She helps our family readiness groups coordinate child care, attends deployment and homecoming ceremonies, promotes the National Guard throughout our communities and does so much more than you could imagine. The Illinois National Guard is blessed to have this special woman on our team."

Richardson said volunteers contribute time, effort and talent to meet a need and further a mission. She said the easiest way to help the Illinois National Guard is to contact the Red Cross or the FRG.

"Volunteers are always needed for the Army and the Army doesn't turn down the help," she said.

Story by Spc. Zachary Zimerman, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment