Grantham University has selected Master Sergeant Reginald Hurt as its 2012 Outstanding Graduate. MSG Hurt completed his Bachelor of Science - Multidisciplinary Studies degree in December 2010 and his Master of Business Administration - Project Management degree in April 2012, graduating Summa Cum Laude in both degrees.

photo of outstanding graduate

2012 Outstanding Graduate, MSG Reginald Hurt

Quote startI wanted to not just attend college, but to retain and use my lessons throughout my career and future endeavors.Quote end

Kansas City, Mo. (PRWEB) April 18, 2012

Grantham University, a 61 year old institution delivering accredited online degrees to working adult students around the world, has selected Master Sergeant Reginald Hurt as its 2012 Outstanding Graduate. MSG Hurt completed his Bachelor of Science - Multidisciplinary Studies degree in December 2010 and his Master of Business Administration- Project Management degree in April 2012, graduating Summa Cum Laude in both degrees.

On April 17, 2012, Dr. Jeffrey Cropsey, vice president for strategic initiatives at Grantham University, presented MSG Hurt with the Outstanding Graduate Award at the Distance Education and Training Council's (DETC) 86th Annual Conference.

"I was honored to present this award to such an outstanding candidate," said Dr. Cropsey. "Reggie truly embodies what it means to be a successful working adult student. He started his courses at Grantham with a goal in mind - to obtain his undergraduate degree and graduate with honors - and went on to achieve that and so much more."

Since the inception of the DETC Outstanding Graduate Program twenty-nine years ago, Grantham University has awarded this honor to one of its graduates each year. Criteria for this award include a GPA of 3.5 or higher, evidence that the graduate has made significant contributions to society and his/her chosen profession, as well as an essay submission demonstrating the graduate's application of knowledge and skills acquired in the online classroom to his/her career and community.

"I realized the importance of a valid and useful degree," commented MSG Hurt. "I wanted to not just attend college, but to retain and use my lessons throughout my career and future endeavors."

MSG Hurt has served proudly in the Army for the past 28 years. While on tour in Afghanistan, he provided input for sewage, roads and infrastructure improvements for new facilities for Afghanistan soldiers and police forces. MSG Hurt also served as the lead engineer for the force protection analysis, planning and upgrades of Kabul's voting sites during Afghanistan's first ever election.

In August 2011, while pursuing his master's, MSG Hurt was selected for Sergeant Major. He currently serves as a senior enlisted advisor in the Army Sustainment Command. MSG Hurt holds the Bronze De Fleury Medal, which is presented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a Bronze Star amongst his military awards.

For more information about Grantham University and its online degree programs, visit: or call 800-955-2527.

About Grantham University:
Established in 1951, Grantham University is a private institution that specializes in online education for the working adult student. Its mission is to provide accessible, affordable, professionally relevant online degrees in a continuously changing global society. Grantham University's online undergraduate and graduate degree programs include : Accounting, Business Administration, Criminal Justice, Computer Science, Engineering Technology, Health Sciences, Information Technology, Medical Coding and Billing, Nursing, Human Resource Management and Business Intelligence. Grantham University offers military scholarships for active duty, reserve, guard, veterans and military family members, as well as scholarships for law enforcement professionals. Grantham's courses are 100% online, allowing students to study at home, at work, on Temporary Duty (TDY) or from almost anywhere in the world. Accredited since 1961 by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council, Grantham University has compiled a distinguished record as a respected and accredited distance learning university spanning six decades of service to education.

Washington, DC - Congressman Bobby Schilling (IL-17) and a number of his colleagues testified yesterday before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health in support of various pieces of legislation relating to health care for American war veterans.  Schilling in December introduced H.R. 3723, the Enhanced Veteran Health Care Experience Act.  

"I truly believe you can tell a lot about a country by the way it treats its veterans," Schilling said in his testimony.  "I'm pursuing this legislation in large part because of the many constituents who constantly share their stories of having to drive long distances while experiencing substantial wait times in an effort to make sure they can get the health care they need.  But I also experienced this in my own family when helping to take care of my father - who served in Korea - near the end of his life.  We had to drive several hours to and from Iowa City for him to get the care he needed.  While we appreciated the service and the care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, I also believe that we must continue to make improvements for our veterans."

This legislation would allow, but not require, veterans to use fee-based care in their home towns with their own doctors.  Under the current veterans' health care system, veterans are shuttled back and forth between the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and their local doctors' offices, bound by the red tape that exists in the fee-based care system administered by the VA.  This red tape only exacerbates working with their local doctors' offices to receive the health care they need.  While increasing the ease with which veterans can receive care, studies and statements by the Government Accountability Office, Office of the Inspector General, and Veterans Service Organizations suggest that implementing the changes in this bill will create savings for the VA and address medical care concerns that veterans have when working with the VA fee-based care system.

"This idea is near and dear to me, and has received a positive response from veterans I have spoken with in my district," Schilling said in his testimony.  "The Congressional process is in place so that we can perfect legislation.  That is what I am working to do on this bill.  Since H.R. 3723's inception and also from its introduction, I have continued to work with Veteran Service Organizations to address their concerns.  I hope to continue to do this with the VSOs and the Committee."

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Coast Guard Silent Drill Team Coast Guard Silent Drill Team Coast Guard Silent Drill Team

They met upon a concrete battlefield in the heart of our nation's capital.  There was no roar of cannon fire, no explosions, no ground to be captured or defended.  All that was heard was the steady cadence of rifle buts striking the ground, heels snapping together and gloved hands smacking in unison the wooden hand guards of rifles.  Each branch of the armed forces was represented; each came to test honor, courage, skill, and precision - not to eliminate an enemy or save a life - but to demonstrate the discipline, skill and mettle necessary to be part of an elite community within an elite community.

Brass, chrome and leather gleamed brightly in the noon sun.  Every uniform was crisp and pristine, reflecting the pride and attention to detail possessed only by those who know what it means to render honors, carry on the finest traditions of military customs and courtesies, provide solace to grieving families, and celebrate our nation's triumphs.

On this crystal clear April afternoon, tourists, veterans and local residents gathered at the steps of the Jefferson Memorial to cheer for their favorite service and to witness the grace that is military drill.

The Joint Service Drill Exhibition, held this year in conjunction with the Centennial of the Cherry Blossom Festival, showcased the talents of the silent drill teams of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Merchant Marine Academy and the Coast Guard.  Each team had 15 minutes in which to demonstrate their skill, strength and control in hopes of earning a competition trophy.  Consistent with military engagements, there was no award for second best.

The Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard's Silent Drill Team is composed of 16 members who are selected from the Ceremonial Honor Guard, based in Alexandria, Va.  At a current strength of 75, the Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard - much like the service as a whole - is significantly smaller in size compared to its DOD counterparts.

According to Lt. Jason Himsey, Ceremonial Honor Guard officer in charge, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps teams have a strength of about 200 members each.  It gives them the advantage of having a broader base of candidates from which to choose when selecting silent drill team members.

Himsey also noted that the smaller size of the Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard means that the silent drill team has fewer opportunities to train and practice together as a unit because, unlike the DOD teams, the Coast Guard's silent drill team is a collateral duty, meaning team members must also handle other missions assigned to the Honor Guard.

The ability to train together is critical to success and to building confidence and trust.

"There's a certain element of danger involved with what we do," said Himsey.  "There's a 13 and a half pound weapon with a fixed bayonet moving at high speed so that presents a cutting hazard.  The air-toss movements present the risk of stabbing."

Those risks became pointedly clear as the silent drill team's drill master, Petty Officer 1stClass Andrew Hammersmith marched between two columns of drill team members as they spun and passed weapons inches in front and behind him.  Later in the drill, Hammersmith stood motionless and unflinchingly as four bayonets stopped inches from his face.

There was an air of confidence and maturity about the silent drill team members that belies their young appearance.  Himsey said the average age of an Honor Guard member is now about 24, which he noted is a change from when he first served on the team as a seaman, noting that some are married and others have degrees.

But it stands to reason that a unit whose mission is to represent the Coast Guard would mirror the service as a whole.  Just as boat crews and aircrews train to achieve proficiency, so too do members of the Honor Guard.  In addition to embodying the core values of the Coast Guard, members of the Honor Guard must embrace the unit's core values of Pride, Poise and Perfection.  "They practice for hours and hours," said Himsey, "and then there is lots of solo practice, where members work on maneuvering the weapon, maneuvering it around themselves, working on hand placement and points of release, which are critical for executing the maneuvers safely."

For all their training, practice and effort, the Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard's Silent Drill Team put on a great show for an appreciative crowd, but it was the Air Force's team that earned the competition trophy this year.  But there is no time to for the Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard to dwell on this moment, for them it's on to the next detail - this time in New Orleans - for an event that is part of the nation's Bicentennial of the War of 1812.

CHICAGO, IL (04/16/2012)(readMedia)-- Illinois Army National Guard leaders gathered for a reduced forces rehearsal (RFR) drill hosted by the 108th Sustainment Brigade (Sust. Bde.) April 13 at the North Kedzie Illinois Army National Guard armory in Chicago.

The RFR drill allowed units to discuss and plan training for the nearly 4,000 Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers attending annual training at the 2012 eXportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) in July at Camp Ripley, Minn.

Participants included the 108th Sust. Bde. in Chicago and the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) in Urbana and select units from the 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in Chicago and 65th Troop Command Brigade in Springfield, Joint Force Headquarters of the Illinois National Guard in Springfield and elements of the Wisconsin National Guard.

"The RFR is important because it allows us to physically view unit movements in the area which we are operating on a reduced scale," said Maj. Chris Heck of Chicago, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 108th Sust. Bde. "We use 20 foot by 40 foot maps of the areas of operation and each unit is represented by a small icon."

Each type of unit has a distinctive symbol that represents it on the icons, said Heck. These icons are moved around on the map to represent the planned movement of the unit at designated times.

"This is certainly impressive to see when you first walk in," said Brig. Gen. Johnny Miller of Tammes, the deputy commanding general of the Illinois Army National Guard. "I know for this exercise people have put in a lot of work preparing for it and there has been progress from the last (RFR) in 2008."

RFRs improve our readiness by allowing units to execute missions in a simulated environment and evaluate training and operating plans, said Heck. The key aspect is it allows the 33rd and 108th along with other supporting elements to jointly coordinate the details of a training mission of this size.

"This in turn allows the leadership and staff to plan and execute realistic training that is safe, fiscally responsible, and still meets the commanders' intent," said Heck.

This will be the second time the Illinois National Guard has conducted an RFR drill and XCTC, with the last in 2008 to prepare the 33rd IBCT for its historic deployment to Afghanistan in 2008 to 2009. It was the largest single deployment of Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers since World War II.

The 2012 XCTC will focus training on both brigades training and operating in the mission essential tasks.

The 2012 XCTC RFR was in the planning process for nearly a year. The 108th took the lead on planning the event and will begin on its logistical support mission before 33rd Solders arrive to Camp Ripley.

"We started planning this RFR in August and we set out to organize a well developed a operational walk through of XCTC," said Lt. Col. Drew Dukett of Roodhouse, the acting commander of the 108th. "From the feedback I received from 108th and the 33rd, I'm confident every command team in attendance knows their unit's day-by-day mission and what will be required of them."

While none of the brigades are slated for a large scale overseas deployment, the XCTC allows leaders to ensure units are trained in the most up-to-date tactics and operating procedures. Both the 33rd and 108th are scheduled to attend training at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La., in 2013. XCTC and JRTC measure overall unit readiness against the Army Forces Generation cycle to ensure the 33rd and 108th are fully capable for any missions ordered by the president to support overseas operations.

XCTC provides a realistic, multi-level, combined arms training for combat and combat support units during an extended annual training period in order to help the brigades build on the Soldiers' individualized and small-team training.

With nearly 3,000 Soldiers from the 33rd and roughly 1,200 from the 108th to train in Minnesota, both units will focus on their wartime missions.

"The 108th has a very unique mission when it comes to sustainment operations and that mission will play a vital role in XCTC," said Dukett. "Our Soldiers will be providing the logistical support for both the 33rd and 108th. While this is no easy task, the 108th stands ready and will excel in its mission, training and readiness while at XCTC."

XCTC is the top readiness priority for the 33rd IBCT, said Col. Paul Hastings of St. Charles, the commander of the 33rd. It'll ensure high training down to unit levels and heightens tactical and operational proficiency.

"With that I know our Soldiers will be confident in themselves, their equipment and their leadership," said Hastings.

Pentagon will implement several elements of Holley Lynn James Act


Washington, DC - Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) joined Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey today to announce new Department of Defense directives that will implement several provisions of Braley's Holley Lynn James Act - almost a year to the day after the bill's introduction.k,


The announcement came after Panetta and Dempsey joined Braley and a small group of House members to discuss addressing sexual assault in the military.


Braley introduced the Holley Lynn James Act last April to strengthen the legal process for addressing claims of sexual assault in the military and improve policies to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence.  The bipartisan bill is named after Holley Lynn James, a constituent of Braley's 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.


"The Pentagon's new directives incorporating aspects of the Holley Lynn James Act to improve the military's response to sexual assault in their ranks is a positive development," Braley said.  "Today's announcement is an important step in creating the zero-tolerance atmosphere that commanders and leaders frequently talk about with regards to these crimes.  I will keep pressing the Department of Defense to put their words into action when they say one sexual assault is one too many and to better care for the victims of these crimes."


The directives announced by the Pentagon today in many instances were based on language contained in Braley's Holley Lynn James Act.


First, the Pentagon will now require sexual assault allegations be immediately reported to senior commanders, who will then consider if the case should proceed to a court martial.  This provision ensures that sexual assault cases are considered by officers with maturity and experience and that these cases are not dismissed as a result of personal bias.


Second, the Pentagon also recognized the need for better prevention and oversight of the Department sexual assault policy.  The Pentagon will take steps to improve the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases by setting up Special Victims Units in each service branch that are trained to investigate sexual assault crimes, appropriately counsel victims and interview offenders, and give them the ability to better recognize the characteristics and behaviors of offenders. The Department of Defense will also require all servicemen and women to receive training on the Department's Sexual Assault Prevention policy within 14 days of entering service.


The Pentagon also agreed to support Guard and Reserve members who may be sexually assaulted while on active duty but who have seen the investigation and prosecution of their assault go cold when they return to their civilian lives.  The new directives will create a way to ensure these individuals have full access to the same resources available to active duty members to seek justice.


A number of provisions of the Holley Lynn James Act focusing on the prevention of sexual assault were previously enacted into law as part of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act.


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Defense Department seeks Korean War Veterans from around the country to gather in Arlington, Virginia and celebrate the 59th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice

Arlington, Virginia - The Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee announced today its efforts to reach out to Korean War Veterans and their families across the country and encourage them to join a commemorative program celebrating the 59th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice. The program, titled Heroes Remembered, is open to the public and will take place on July 27, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Featuring a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the program includes official remarks in the Arlington National Cemetery's Amphitheatre with high ranking Defense Department officials and other senior government representatives. The event also includes additional special activities for Korean War Veterans and their families.

"Our Committee seeks to educate the American people on Korean War Veterans' stories and strives to make their sacrifices known to the next generation of Americans," said Committee Executive Director Colonel David J. Clark. "Their fight for the freedom and prosperity we enjoy today must be, and will be, remembered forever," Colonel Clark added.

The Korean War was the first test of the United Nations' resolve to stand against tyranny. Twenty-one nations banded together with the United States and the Republic of Korea in a remarkable display of solidarity to turn back North Korea's naked aggression and stem the tide of communism on the Korean Peninsula. The Armistice, signed on July 27, 1953, remains in effect today and highlights the need to remain vigilant against the forces of tyranny and oppression in Korea and around the globe.

Korean War Veterans fought to halt the tide of communism that threatened to sweep over the Korean peninsula. Today, the Republic of Korea stands as a modern, prosperous, vibrant democracy because of their courage and selfless sacrifice.

Korean War Veterans, family members, and friends interested in attending the event can RSPV online here.


About the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee:
The Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee, authorized in the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, is dedicated to thanking and honoring all the Veterans of the Korean War, their families and especially those who lost loved ones in that war. Through 2013, the Committee will honor the service and sacrifice of Korean War Veterans, commemorate the key events of the war, and educate Americans of all ages about the historical significance of the Korean War. For more information, visit our website or contact us at

Keep connected with the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee via Facebook and Twitter, through videos at YouTube or with photos on Flickr.

JOLIET, IL (04/11/2012)(readMedia)-- A collection of eight clergy and community-based church leaders from the Chicago area gathered at the Joliet National Guard Armory April 10 to kick off a five-event Partners In Care campaign.

"The purpose is to bring clergy as well as community-based church leaders together to offer training in terms of how they can better support military members in their congregation as well as their community," said Chaplain (Capt.) Vincent C. Lambert of Chicago, with 2nd Battalion, 122nd Field Artillery in Chicago. "So the idea is that we want to provide them with tools, resources and training that better equips them to serve the military population."

This training is in light of the vast amount of people in Illinois who are connected to the military. There are more than 750,000 people living in Illinois who have either served or are serving in the Armed Forces.

"Military personnel are a significant chunk of the population, here in Illinois and if we can get as many partners as possible to help support the population I think the state is better for it, those families are better for it and ultimately the people who provide that support are better for it," said Lambert.

Martin R. Stidham of Chicago and pastor at the Chicago International Church initially expressed interest in the Partners In Care training to understand and help his son who is in the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Illinois. He walked away with a larger vision of how beneficial this training could be.

"I would say we are more equipped now," said Stidham. "I, at least, feel more compassionate toward them, more understanding of what they've gone through. I feel that I have a much greater understanding than before. Understanding is a good tool to help listen better."

Those in attendance received instruction to help servicemembers with traumatic physical and mental injuries to deal with post traumatic stress disorder. Instructors then addressed secondary traumatic stress disorders and the pain family members can go through, with the goal to effectively support servicemembers facing the reality that there is a "new normal."

"What we want is to make sure that we're offering resources that helps individuals be emotionally healthy, spiritually healthy, and to have a good family," said Lambert. "So the idea is to offer up resources that are spiritual, emotional and mental so that people will be whole and healed."

The Partners in Care program looks to take advantage of a unique connection between institutions of faith and the military.

"I think the military benefits greatly from the stability and support that is provided by religious communities and by people of faith," said Tony J. Sorgi of Chicago, a doctoral student at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in the military psychology track. "I think it can provide a measure of mental resilience from a psychological perspective and I think that's very important. On the flip side I think the military communities make enormous contributions to the religious communities they are a part of in civil society. The experience of war is profound and for the people who work their way through that experience, they bring a strength to democracy and civil society that we badly need."

The Partners In Care campaign will continue with a stop at the Chicago Armory April 12, the Mount Vernon Armory April 17, the Elgin Armory April 18, and the Illinois Military Academy at Camp Lincoln in Springfield April 25. All instruction beginning at 9 a.m.

"The more partners we have, the more points of support we have throughout the state," said Lambert. "The more points of support we have the better we are at being able to support our military personnel and their families. We are always looking for more partners and houses of faith that would be committed and want to become a part of the program."

Date Location

April 12 Chicago Armory; 5200 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago

April 17 Mount Vernon Armory; 205 7th St., Mount Vernon

April 18 Elgin Armory; 254 Raymond St., Elgin

April 25 Camp Lincoln Illinois Military Academy, 1301 N. MacArthur Blvd., Springfield

Decades after earning them, Henry A. Johnson finally presented Purple Heart, Bronze Star,

and six other medals he never received 


Cedar Falls, IA - Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today traveled to Cedar Falls to present seven military service medals - including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star - to Henry A. Johnson, 93, a World War II Army veteran who earned the medals but never received them after he was wounded in Italy during the war.

In discharge papers, the Army told Johnson he was awarded the medals, but they were never given to him.  Johnson recently approached Braley's office for assistance in finally obtaining the medals - decades after they were granted.

"On behalf of the American people, I want to thank Henry Johnson for his service to our country," Braley said.  "His sacrifice and the sacrifices of millions of others paved the way for decades of American freedom and prosperity.  Six decades is a long time to wait for such an honor, but I'm proud to stand with Henry today and present him these distinguished medals.  Henry is more than deserving of our gratitude for his honorable service."


Braley presented Johnson the following medals for his service in World War II: the Bronze Star; the Purple Heart; the Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal; the Combat Infantry Badge 1st Award; and the Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII.

Johnson was stationed in Italy as an Army telephone switchboard operator during World War II.  Johnson was wounded and spent time in a Chicago hospital before being discharged.  Johnson worked for the Carnation Company in Waverly for 30 years before retiring.

It is thought that thousands of World War II veterans have never received medals they earned due to shortages in materials after the war.

After getting a request for assistance from Johnson, Braley's office worked with the National Personnel Records Center to obtain the medals.  Braley's office is well-equipped to help veterans who have lost medals, never received them, or who have had them destroyed due to natural disaster, fire or other circumstances.  Veterans seeking assistance should contact Braley's Waterloo office at (319) 287-3233.

Braley is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

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SPRINGFIELD, IL (04/06/2012)(readMedia)-- Four members of the Illinois National Guard's Family Programs were recognized for their efforts and service to the Soldiers, Airmen and military families April 4 at Camp Lincoln in Springfield.

Kathy KozaK of Glendale Heights, Anita Yakle of Jacksonville and Shirley Dilworth of Springfield received a Military Medal of Merit and Annette Chapman of Pontiac received a trophy of achievement for their display of selfless devotion and support for Illinois National Guard Family Program's mission. Their efforts enhanced operational support and ensured the program met the needs of servicemembers and their families.

Kozak served as the hub for the Illinois National Guard's Family support system at North Riverside. She successfully maintained a 99 percent contact rate for outreach calls to family members of deployed servicemembers and also serves as a primary contact for the Service Member and Family Support Services for Informal Crisis Response Team.

Yakle was the primary member of the Servicemember Readiness Program team; processing more than 10,000 Soldiers. On a daily basis she works closely with all branches, establishing professional and supportive relationships, assists Survivors and the Survivor Outreach Services Team. She supports more than 30 units, more than 3,600 servicemembers in addition to their family members.

As the Springfield Illinois Service Member and Family Support Services Military Youth Coordinator, Dilworth successfully established events to assist more than 31,000 military youth of all branches within Illinois to cope with a parent's deployment and homecoming.

Dilworth facilitated more than 45 events with a year-end total of more than 3,300 youth

attendees at events such as deployment and reunion ceremonies, formal classes for youth ages 6 to 17 on how to cope with deployments and improving the State's Annual Easter Egg Hunt. She ensures all events are both enjoyable and educational.

Chapman assisted in the pre-deployment, deployment and return of more than 3,000 servicemembers with the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and assisted their families through every step in 2008 to 2009. After that, she stepped up as the Family Readiness Assistant and finally the Senior Family Readiness Support Assistant for the Illinois National Guard Service Members and their families.

SPRINGFIELD, IL (04/06/2012)(readMedia)-- "You call, we haul," is uttered by many transportation company Soldiers throughout the state. Motor transport operators drive the force, hauling rolling stock to ammunition and other vital supplies.

The Illinois National Guard's 129th Regional Training Institute out of the Illinois Military Academy at Camp Lincoln trained 11 Soldiers from various state and Army components to be certified as motor transport operators (88M) at the Illinois State Police Training Area in Pawnee, March 18 to April 1.

The 129th operates, like many other military schools, with a crawl, walk, run course progression. The Soldiers start in the classroom learning everything from hand and arm signals to how to fill out a dispatch form.

Soldiers then move to hands-on practice backing up with a 5-ton cargo truck, a 915 with a tractor trailer and a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck with tractor trailer. They also practice driving in convoys and night vision driving.

The main emphasis of the training is to give Soldiers the skills they will need to be successful during future operations.

Illinois is one of 20 states offering a course that certifies Soldiers as 88Ms.

"The Illinois Military Academy has been described as the best Army school house in the nation," said Col. Thomas Weiss of Williamsville, the director of Training, Operations and Plans at Camp Lincoln. "It's important we support our Military Academy by enrolling in its courses before considering other sources of training."

Soldiers will receive quality training at the 88M course, the instructors said.

"The training that we put together is among the top in the country," said Sgt. 1st Class James R. Griffin of Riverton, a course manager in the 129th. "Back in July we received an accreditation from both United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and the 88M transportation proponent as an Institute of Excellence. We have had several best practices for things we have done, not just out here on the lanes, but also for our work behind the scenes."

Spc. Chris R. Rapacz of Springfield, a former gunner in an active-duty field artillery unit and now with the 724th Transportation Company, an Army Reserve unit in Bartonville, said he is excited about the training he's received.

"It's great," said Rapacz. "That's why you join the Army; to do neat things. I shot some of the biggest guns in the military and now I am going to drive some of the biggest trucks. I am all around satisfied with everything about this training."

Several Soldiers from out of the state participated in the training as well.

"The quality of the training is good," said Pfc. Jason T. Snyder of Louisville, Ky., who drills with the 203rd Forward Support Company in Elizabethtown, Ky. "I am confident that I will be able to take a lot of these skills back to my unit and on a deployment if needed and will be able to utilize these skills."

In addition to being a benefit for Soldiers attending the course, the course also provides many benefits to the state of Illinois that make this the ultimate win-win scenario.

"It will help Illinois save money because Illinois is the largest National Guard transportation state in the United States," said Sgt. 1st Class Ed D. Heap of Bushnell with the 129th. "We have the most transportation companies and, with us doing our own training, we don't have to pay a different state for lodging and meals. We don't have to pay a lot to the Soldiers for traveling. It also helps Illinois National Guard Soldiers save a lot of wear and tear on their vehicles when they don't have to do a long drive."

"These skills are very applicable to real-mission scenarios," said Heap. "Overseas in theater they do have the line-haul missions. They are going to have to back up under all sorts of missions."

Several of the instructors have performed as 88Ms while in a deployment overseas and know the importance of transportation.

"An 88M is very essential to the overall mission of the Army," said Heap. "Without 88Ms units won't get their supplies. I consider 88M to be the main backbone of the Army because we haul the supplies including the food, water, fuel, ammunition. So without the 88M the Army can't run logistically."

Griffin agreed with Heap's assessment.

"I used to have a quote for the guys who would make fun of me for being a truck driver and it says that 'I may not be the pride of the Army, but without me your pride don't ride,'" said Griffin.

There is a great need for 88Ms. While there are more than 1,000 certified 88Ms in the Illinois Army National Guard, there are still 162 88M openings waiting to be filled. With that many openings new 88M Soldiers can expect a fast-tracked career and increased leadership opportunities.