CHICAGO, IL (03/11/2011)(readMedia)-- Imagine being a member of an Illinois Army National Guard unit that is so unique among the thousands of units that exist in the U. S. Army. A military unit of which there are only 11 similar units across the Army National Guard, Army Reserves and Active Duty forces and in total, numbers less than 300 Soldiers. That unit is Illinois Army National Guard's 244th Army Liaison Team (ALT) in Chicago.

The 244th ALT has been part of the Illinois Army National Guard since 2000. Although the 20-Soldier team is small, it is a highly visible unit with an important mission.

"Our mission is to provide liaison capability to the Army Forces/Joint Task Force commander with major subordinate commands, Allied Coalition Force Commands Joint Task Force and other U.S. services," said Col. Troy Phillips of Philo, ALT team chief.

Meeting with foreign officials, being the eyes and ears of the coalition commander on the ground, and ensuring that Soldiers from different cultures are on the same page to reach a common goal could seem like an impossible task, but these tasks are part of everyday life for the men and women of the 244th ALT.

This Chicago-based unit, in many ways, is like most every other Army unit. However, it has a colonel who serves as the team chief rather than a commander, a lieutenant colonel, several majors and captains, as well as senior enlisted Soldiers. The unit also has one full-time Soldier that assists with daily operations.

The major difference is the 244th does not have all the Soldiers beneath them to do the work.

"It has an operations section, intelligence section and logistics section, as well as vehicle mechanics and medical personnel, said Maj. Jorge Fonseca of Bolingbrook, who until recently served as the unit's intelligence officer. "The command staff is used in time of war to coordinate and facilitate the synchronization of information relating to current and future plans and operations with subordinate, lateral, and superior units and the multi-national force commander."

During its most recent deployment to Iraq in 2006, Soldiers from the 244th were assigned to various agencies within the Iraq government. Members of the unit were liaison officers inside of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, Iraqi National Joint Operations Center and the Prime Minister's Situation Room. Their job was to ensure the Strategic Operations Center of the Multi-National Forces-Iraq Headquarters, commanded by Gen. George Casey, had the same information and intelligence that was being passed on to the newly elected Iraqi government.

"Success on the battlefield requires accurate information in a timely manner," Phillips said. "In Iraq, the 244th ALT worked to improve the unity of effort among our Iraqi partners while ensuring the coalition received timely reports in order to monitor the synchronization between the ministries and various Iraqi security forces."

It is these highly skilled officers and noncommissioned officers from the various ALTs working behind the scenes that have helped ease the tension and understanding of cultural differences between the young Iraqi government and Multi-National Forces-Iraq, adding to the successful completion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As of Sept. 1, operations in Iraq now fall under the name Operation New Dawn, which signifies a new chapter in Iraqi history as the U.S. begins to withdraw troops and recognize a new Iraq government.

The 244th has also worked with many foreign armies to conduct multi-national exercises. Members of the unit are usually involved in all aspects of the exercise development.

"The exercises conducted with foreign troops allow the 244th to practice its primary mission, and present many unique challenges, such as language barriers and cultural differences," Phillips said. "The exercises assist in reducing the barriers, and develop esprit de corps between the Soldiers, regardless of nationality."

The 244th has been involved with numerous missions over the last few years on foreign soil.

In June 2010, the 244th ALT participated in Exercise Cooperative Resolve 10, peace enforcement stability and support operations based exercise held in Ankara, Turkey. In March 2009, the 244th participated in the Bagram Five in Poland with the Polish Army. The exercise was to validate the Polish 6th Air Assault Brigade before its deployment to Afghanistan. In 2007 the unit participated in a joint command post exercise (TORGAU 07) held in Germany with members of the Russian military.

The exercises build strong bonds with foreign militaries and governments, ensuring both armies are able to operate and work together in a combat zone.

"These exercises are invaluable to our training and development of our junior officers and non commissioned officers, who will likely see more U.S. involvement in coalition warfare during their careers," Phillips said.

While the unit is made up of senior enlisted Soldiers and officers, the unit will be undergoing some restructuring in the future and the number of Soldiers will greatly expand.

"The ALTs will become Digital Liaison Detachments with an additional fire support team as well as an air missile defense team," Fonseca said. "The additional personnel will greatly improve the interoperability of the 244th as they plan for the next mission."

The 244th ALT continues to train in preparation for its next mission. The unit is expected to deploy in early 2012 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Story by Sgt. Dan Stinson, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Introduces bi-partisan bill to require reporting on true cost of wars

Washington, DC - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) introduced a bill that would require a full accounting of the human and financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Rep. Braley returned from a Congressional fact-finding mission in Afghanistan where he met with General David Petraeus and discussed the cost of the Afghanistan war with him. Rep. Braley also met with several top commanders on the ground and numerous Iowa National Guard troops - 3,500 of which are currently stationed in Afghanistan.

"These wars are incredibly personal for me and the people of my district," said Rep. Braley. "I've met with dozens of my constituents - young men and women and their families - who have sacrificed a great deal in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And when I meet injured soldiers and I see the hardships - physical and financial - that they and their families will endure for the rest of their lives it becomes crystal clear that the true cost of the war is not being accurately reported. With this bill, we can change that."

The bipartisan True Cost of War Act, co-sponsored by Republican Congressman Walter Jones (NC-03), requires the President to work with the Secretaries of Defense, State and Veterans Affairs to submit a written report to Congress on the long-term human and financial costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2020.

"In the last 10 years, Congress has appropriated over a trillion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Rep. Braley. "But what we don't account for in that figure is the more than 5,800 U.S. Service members who've been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Or the more than 40,000 who've been wounded and who will spend the rest of their lives treating injuries like PTSD, traumatic brain injury, severe burns and amputated limbs. These are not just costs that our troops and their families bear - these are also significant costs for the Veterans Affairs department and all American taxpayers. As a nation, we have a right to know what these conflicts will actually cost us."

Rep. Braley has been fighting for a true accounting of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since he came to Congress. He has introduced and passed similar language in several amendments to past House bills.


SPRINGFIELD, IL (02/28/2011)(readMedia)-- A Desert Storm Remembrance ceremony was held Feb. 28 at the Illinois State Capitol building to honor the 20th anniversary of the end of the Gulf War.

During the war Illinois lost 14 servicemembers from cities spread out over the state who served in the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.

With the mobilization of reserve components, the Illinois National Guard supplied approximately 10 units and roughly 1,400 Soldiers and Airmen to support Operation Desert Storm.

The 1244th Transportation Company in North Riverside, the 1544th Transportation Company in Paris, the 108th Medical Battalion in Chicago, the 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls, the 233rd Military Police Company in Springfield, the 126th Air Refueling Wing and two of its subordinated squadrons all based in Scott Air Force Base, the 182nd Tactical Air Support Group in Peoria and the 933rd Military Police Company in Fort Sheridan were deployed to support the combat efforts in Kuwait.

The Illinois National Guard, Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 32, Gold Star Families were some of the organizations that participated in the ceremony.

SPRINGFIELD, IL (02/25/2011)(readMedia)-- For decades the Army has trained its Soldiers in the art of combat; from weapons on the cutting edge of technology to the tried and true - their fists.

Approximately 18 Soldiers with the Illinois, Minnesota and Nevada National Guards completed the first ever National Guard-sponsored Modern Army Combat (MAC) Level III training outside of the MAC schoolhouse in Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 25 at Camp Lincoln in Springfield.

The Illinois National Guard is the first reserve or guard component to host the MAC Level III combative training event, said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Grant of Caseyville, the MAC course manager with the 129th Regional Training Institute in Springfield.

"We're the first Guard unit to host a (MAC) Level III and nobody else has done it, but there's a lot of folks who have talked about it," said Grant.

The Illinois National Guard has worked toward the goal of having the facilities and equipment required to be able to train MAC Level III for the past three years, said Grant. Illinois has hosted level I and II training over the years, but with the buildup of trained students, MAC Level III was the next step.

"It's an excellent opportunity for these guys," said Grant. "As level three trained, you can certify level I. Once we build up the number of level IIIs in the state, it'll be in a short time till every single Soldier in the Illinois National Guard has the opportunity to be trained and certified in combatives."

Grant said Soldiers are encouraged to take what they learn and train the Soldiers in their unit aiding in the overall combatives training goal of the Illinois National Guard.

MAC Level III builds on the Levels I and II which takes the grapples and escapes and adds standing fighting tactics and strikes. Soldiers learn how to use hand-to-hand combat in close-quarters combat instead of relying solely on their weapons. Even conducting combatives in urban environment setting showed how the training can be applied in a mission setting.

The Army has pushed combatives training during the last almost seven years by teaching Soldiers in basic training how to fight hand-to-hand as a critical skill.

Illinois was able to get all the necessary equipment for a National Guard command to hold a MAC Level III training program, said Sgt. Atreyu Ross of Mayville, N.Y., a combatives instructor with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment at of Fort Benning, Ga.

"Doesn't matter if you're active Army, Marine, Air Force," said Ross. "Everybody should be able to defend themselves, so why not start here."

Grant said training the Soldiers was a good experience. Their motivation and desire to learn is evident when they are out fighting on the mats, said Grant.

"Every one of the guys that show up have already been to (MAC) Level I. They've been to (MAC) Level II," said Grant. "They know what's expected. They know it's going be tough. But they volunteered to come. Nobody forced them to come. They want to be here. They want to train. They want to get beat up. They want to learn. And most of all they want to take this back to their units and train their fellow Soldiers."

With the Soldiers who traveled near and far to attend the training, the longest path was taken by Staff Sgt. Steve Owen of Rock Island, with the 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery Regiment currently deployed to Sinai, Egypt. Owen was allowed to travel back to Illinois to attend the training, so upon his return to Egypt he will lead the combative course for the task force in Sinai.

"I was one of select a few who were (MAC) Level II trained," said Owens. "My platoon sergeant was the one that referred me and I told them it was an offer I couldn't refuse."

With this training, Owen is set to offer a combatives program for the roughly 1,700 Soldiers in Task Force Sinai.

"It's kind of overwhelming," said Owen. "I've never been put in this kind of position. Yeah, I'm a squad leader; but being in charge of a whole task force and training them in (MAC) Level I, that's big shoes to fill. Coming here, learning this stuff, it gives me the motivation that drives me to do that."

Combatives training has developed in the branches of the military since the increase in urban combat in overseas military operations, said Ross. The possible need to fight close quarters has heightened the importance of servicemembers to be ready to defend themselves armed or unarmed. With the Army and Marine Corps having their own unarmed combat styles and the Air Force currently developing their own, combatives has been a step forward in the U.S. military's ability to be combat ready in any situation.

"If you can't defend yourself in any given situation and you're not prepared for it, it can mean life or death and we don't want that," said Ross. "We want to have somebody say 'I've been in this situation before.'"

Units from Springfield, Paris, North Riverside, Chicago, Scott Air Force Base, Rock Falls and Fort Sheridan Supported War Efforts in Kuwait

SPRINGFIELD, IL (02/23/2011)(readMedia)-- Twenty years ago troops were mobilized and ground combat operations marked the beginning and the end of the Gulf War Feb. 23, 1991 in the deserts of Kuwait. Capt. Brad Sinkler of Sullivan, commander of the 1544th Transportation Company in 1990 was one of those Soldiers.

"It was a surprise," said Sinkler. "August 2 Saddam had invaded Kuwait. We'd heard some rumblings and were following the news. My operations sergeant said we had a pretty good chance to get called up ... and a week later we got the call."

The war lasted only 100 hours after months of U.S. military forces, both active and reserve components, preparation to meet with heavy resistance from the Iraqi forces that invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

Twenty days after the invasion of Kuwait, President George Bush authorized the mobilization of National Guard and Reserve units to support combat operations in Kuwait.

With the mobilization of reserve components, the Illinois National Guard supplied 11 units and roughly 1,400 Soldiers and Airmen to support Operation Desert Storm.

The 1244th Transportation Company in North Riverside, the 1544th Transportation Company in Paris, the former 108th Medical Battalion in Chicago, the 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls, the 233rd Military Police Company in Springfield, the 126th Air Refueling Wing and two of its subordinated squadrons all based in Scott Air Force Base, the 182nd Tactical Air Support Group in Peoria and the 933rd Military Police Company in Fort Sheridan were deployed to support the combat efforts in Kuwait.

The first Illinois National Guard unit mobilized was the 1244th Transportation Company on Sept. 20, 1990; the 1544th Transportation Company followed one week later.

The 1544th went to Fort Campbell, Ky., a few days later and was in Saudi Arabia Nov. 6, 1990.

"We were nervous," said Sinkler. "We didn't know what to expect, how long we were going to be gone. It was just a new experience. We just listened to what the people in the states were telling us and making sure our families was taken care of. We just went through the process and didn't really know how to feel."

Sinkler said once in Kuwait the Soldiers of the 1544th were still uncertain of what they would do out in the Kuwaiti desert. They later found it would be what they do best: take to the roads transporting cargo.

The 1544th conducted transportation missions and moved supplies and people throughout the country. They traveled of more than 750,000 miles with no accidents.

"My biggest fear was losing one of my Soldiers," said Sinkler. "I made sure we did things as safely as we could, made sure the Soldiers were getting the sleep they needed and that they conducted the proper maintenance on their vehicles."

Life in the deserts of Kuwait was a drastically different experience for many of the Soldiers, said Sinkler.

"We really didn't have the things the Soldiers have today," Sinkler said. "We had a TV, but we couldn't pick up (American Forces Network TV). The only way we could watch anything is if we had a VHS player and VHS tapes. Nobody had a laptop or Internet. Back then it was mainly just mail and maybe once a week a telephone call."

A few of Soldiers in 1544th were Vietnam veterans, said Sinkler. He said the veterans had the experience to take care of fellow Soldiers who had never been in a combat.

This was the first major combat operation U.S. forces had participated in since Vietnam, but Desert Storm was not viewed in the same controversy.

"The support we had back home was just overwhelming," said Sinkler. "Really, our nation hadn't experienced war to that level since Vietnam. It was humbling and we knew that no matter the outcome, we were going to have the support of the American people."

Since initial operations moved so fast, Sinkler said, specific details of the mission were had to come by.

"We were in the moment, we didn't know how the operation was going, we were just doing our job," said Sinkler. "We were calling home and talking to our families and they were telling us what they

were seeing on CNN. My wife told me about things that were going on in Kuwait that I had no idea about."

The passing months culminated into ground warfare Feb. 23, 1991 with a cease fire between U.S. and Iraqi forces March 3. After roughly four months in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, combat operation had halted. As quickly as it began, Soldiers returned home.

"I'm glad it ended when it did or it was going to be a real challenge to keep the ground forces resupplied because they were moving so fast," said Sinkler. "In the month of March we sustained the forward units and were just waiting for our turn to go to the port and go home."

It was good just to go over and help the people of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, said Sinkler.

"It was being part of something that was bigger than you," he said. "It had national importance; it was a part of history in the making and something we can look back on and say 'I was there.' It was an experience that gives you a greater appreciation for our nation and what it stands for."

PEORIA, IL (02/18/2011)(readMedia)-- As the old adage goes, 'music has charms to sooth a savage beast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.'

With the title Airmen, many may envision a pilot and flight crew, but there are many other ways Airmen serve their country with a double bassoon instead of a fighter jet.

With more than 150 different occupations in the National Guard, there is only one job that allows a servicemember to use an instrument instead of a weapon. That group of talented citizen-Airmen is part of the Air National Guard Band of the Midwest.

"Each time I sing the armed forces melody while the band plays, it's such an honor to see the veterans stand to their feet," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Keisha Gwin-Goodin of Chicago, a vocalist with the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America.

The mission of the Illinois Air National Guard's 566th Air Force Band is unique among military units. The Airmen's skills reflect both art and dedication to service in patriotic performance.

"Our mission is multi-faceted," said Air Force Maj. Bryan Miller of Naperville, commander and conductor of the Illinois Air National Guard's 566th Air Force Band. "We are a powerful resource, everything from morale, welfare and recreation to recruiting internally, to improving community relations and portraying a positive image for our nation's military."

The band performs all over the globe, but has had recent concentrations on morale boosting concerts and memorial services in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"With so many military missions in action, we will construct and deploy the most appropriate ensemble needed for the mission," said Miller. "We accomplish this with any number of products to include ceremonial and concert bands, jazz and rock bands, vocalists, buglers and anything else that could best serve a specific mission."

Alongside performing for deployed troop operations, the 566th Air National Guard Band also lifts the

spirits of civilians by performing locally at schools, nursing homes and surrounding organizations.

"The 566th Air National Guard Band is an essential column to the military public affairs structure," said Tech. Sgt. Jack Kinsella of Mahattan, Ill., "Performing not only inspires patriotism, but it most importantly strengthens relationships with a variety of publics to enhance the reputation of the fighting forces of America."

With 11 Air National Guard bands in the continental United States, each band is accountable for supporting units in a multi-state area of responsibility. While performing a diverse line up of patriotic ensembles, the Illinois Air National Guard band has established and maintained an integral root within military history.

Miller said, "I do believe in our mission, whether it's performing for deployed troops in theater, stateside or for the citizenry, we have the unique opportunity to reach out and touch people."

For more information on the band please contact the Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office, 217-761-3569.

Washington, DC - February 16, 2011 - Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) met with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki last night to discuss his new leadership role on the House Veterans Affairs committee. Rep. Braley talked about legislation to help Iowa veterans and brought up his concerns about the slow implementation of a law passed last year to help disabled veterans and the people who care for them.

"Secretary Shinseki and I had a great conversation and a productive meeting," said Rep. Braley. "I look forward to working with him and the Veterans Affairs department to ensure that our veterans get the very best care and the benefits they deserve."

Rep. Braley gave Secretary Shinseki a letter detailing his concerns about the delayed implementation of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act - a part of that law was meant to provide financial assistance and counseling to help people taking care of wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Rep. Braley supported the bill in the House last year.

According to media reports, the Department of Veterans Affairs missed the January 31, 2011 deadline for fully implementing the new law, leaving families of wounded veterans without the promised assistance.

A high-resolution photo of Rep. Braley and Secretary Shinseki is available here:
Caption for the photo: Congressman Bruce Braley tells VA Secretary Eric Shinseki about Andrew Connolly of Dubuque, IA - an Iowa Army National Guard soldier who served in Iraq.

A copy of the letter is available here:

# # #

Public Reviews Will Help Non-Profit Organization
Win $5,000 To Support Military Care Package Mission


Encino, CA--February 8, 2011:  Through candid reviews by the public, Operation Gratitude has the opportunity to win a $5,000 prize offered by GuideStar USA, Inc., the leading source of nonprofit information, and KIMBIA, a group that empowers nonprofits and other organizations to increase giving.

This generous gift of $5,000 will help Operation Gratitude support the assembly and postage costs ($15 per package) of individual care packages addressed to deployed troops and Wounded Warriors.


Anyone with firsthand knowledge about Operation Gratitude can write a review on GuideStar.  Operation Gratitude partners, donors, volunteers, sponsors,  package recipients and their families are urged to participate. The review will appear in Operation Gratitude's profile on both  and  (GuideStar's partner that makes it possible to write and post reviews).


"We are incredibly fortunate to have such a passionate and committed support network across the nation," said Operation Gratitude founder Carolyn Blashek. "If every supporter would take just a few moments of their time to write a review, we will be a major contender for the GuideStar-KIMBIA Nonprofit Giveaway. Plus, these reviews will show that we are truly making an impact, working effectively toward our mission, and  greatly benefiting our heroes in harm's way.


The Giveaway Contest began on February 1, 2011, and ends at 11:59 p.m. EDT February 28, 2011. Reviews are limited to one per person.  The organization that receives the most number of reviews on and during this period will win the grand prize of $5,000.

To write a review for Operation Gratitude, please click on and then click "Write a Review" on the lefthand side of the page.


The winner will be announced in March.

WEST DES MOINES, IOWA - Feb. 4, 2011 - The Iowa Farm Bureau's Farm Management Webinar Series will address crop insurance and crop marketing techniques in its next session held on Thursday, Feb. 17. The live webinar will be held at 1 p.m. (CST) .

Dr. William Edwards, Iowa State University economics professor, will lead the webinar, updating farmers' crop insurance knowledge and introducing the new COMBO policy. In addition, Ed Kordick, Iowa Farm Bureau commodity services manager, will discuss pre-harvest marketing plans, along with an early look at potential profitability regarding the 2011 crop.

"This is a great opportunity for farmers to learn up-to-date information that can assist them as they make 2011 crop decisions," said Kordick. "And they can do so from the comfort of their own homes."

Registration is encouraged. To test your computer's access, go online to  Once registered, you will receive an e-mail reminder. Participants can access the webinar at www.iowafarmbureau.comand look for the link on the main rotating banner.

An archived version will be available for Farm Bureau members.

To register and find more information, contact Kordick at 515-225-5433.


Operation Gratitude Extends its Outreach to Our Wounded Warriors


Encino, CA--February 3, 2011: Having already shipped more than 600,000 care packages to service men and women deployed in combat zones, Operation Gratitude is pleased to announce a new program tailored to those wounded in service to their country.


Operation Gratitude will begin providing special Wounded Warrior Care Packages to service members recovering in Military Hospitals and Wounded Warrior Transition units located on military bases throughout the United States.

Wounded Warrior

Prior Wounded Warrior helps others heal at Brooke Army Medical Center WWTU

Further, in recognition that the Wounded Warrior often expresses deep concern for their buddies remaining on the front line, Operation Gratitude will send care packages on behalf of the Wounded Warrior to the rest of his or her unit still deployed downrange.


"We hope that sending those packages to their deployed comrades will help the wounded feel they are still contributing to the mission and supporting their buddies" according to Operation Gratitude founder, Carolyn Blashek.


Wounded Warrior Transition Units ("WWTU") provide critical support to the wounded and their families, focusing on those requiring six months or more of rehabilitative care and complex medical management.


Operation Gratitude Wounded Warrior Care Package deliveries will begin in February.  Patients at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center and soldiers in the WWTU at Ft. Polk, Louisiana will be among the first to receive the shipments.


"Here at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center (SFAC), we provide the non-medical support to the Wounded Warrior and their families assigned/attached to the  Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Polk," explained an SFAC Specialist.  "Your care packages will go a long way in letting the Wounded Warriors here at Fort Polk know that people care."


Operation Gratitude's annual goal is to provide 10,000 of the Wounded Warrior Care Packages filled with specially selected items donated through the generosity of corporate sponsors and supportive citizens, and assembled by the organization's dedicated volunteers.  More packages will be assembled and shipped if requested.


According to representatives at Wounded Warrior facilities, the most needed items are: Healthy Snacks, Entertainment items, Hygiene products, iPods and Gift Cards from chain stores such as supermarkets, drugstores, Target and Walmart.


As with its Care Packages to deployed troops, Operation Gratitude will provide every American a way to express their appreciation and encouragement to our heroes wounded in combat by donating items, contributing funds, crafting hand-made items and writing letters.


Operation Gratitude is particularly requesting personal letters of support and encouragement in order to include several in each package.  For information on writing letters: Letter Writing Flyer

For those wishing to thank a Wounded Warrior, letters and items can be sent to:

Operation Gratitude

17330 Victory Boulevard

Van Nuys, CA 91406

Attn: Wounded Warrior Program

For more information on how to support Wounded Warriors and troops deployed in harm's way, visit: 
How You Can Help


Financial donations can be made online here: Donate to Wounded Warriors or by check made payable and addressed to:

Operation Gratitude

16444 Refugio Road

Encino, CA 91436