MILAN, IL (08/02/2011)(readMedia)-- Approximately 440 Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery Regiment in Milan will be recognized Aug. 6 and 7 by the National Guard Bureau Freedom Salute Campaign for their sacrifice and service while they deployed to Sinai, Egypt. Three separate ceremonies will take place to honor the Soldiers with the battalion.

The Soldiers mobilized in May 2010 as part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), and returned home to their families May 14, 2011. The international peacekeeping force oversees the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

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

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

While the mobilization included units from northwest Illinois, Soldiers are from all areas of Illinois.

The Freedom Salute Campaign is one of the largest Army National Guard recognition endeavors in history. It is designed to publicly acknowledge Army National Guard Soldiers and those who supported them while deployed.

Date Unit Location Time Approx. # of Soldiers

Aug. 6 Battery B Macomb Armory, 135 W. Grant St.; Macomb 10 a.m. 90

Aug. 6 Battery C Galesburg Armory, 362 N. Linwood Road; Galesburg 2 p.m. 90

Aug. 7 Headquarters, Battery A, Forward Support Company Augustana College, 3703 7th Ave.; Rock Island (Centennial Hall) 10 a.m. 250

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Bill benefitting home passes unanimously

Washington, DC - Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) co-sponsored and championed a bill to help the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. With Rep.Braley's help, the bill passed unanimously out of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health. The bill will help the Iowa Veterans Home and similar veterans' homes across the country provide care to millions of elderly and disabled veterans.

"This bill will help us ensure that our veterans are getting the care they deserve - not just in Iowa, but all over the country," said Rep. Braley. "The men and women who served this nation deserve the best care we can possibly provide. That's why I'm proud to co-sponsor this bill which supports the veterans home in Marshalltown that cares for so many of our national heroes."

David Worley, who serves as Commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home and oversees operations, said the bill is an important step for Iowa veterans.

"This bill will be a big boost for the Iowa Veterans Home," said Commandant Worley. "It'll give us the resources we need to care for our elderly veterans, and as we see many more young men and women coming back from battle, this bill will help us provide our returning veterans with the services they need."

Rep. Braley will continue fighting to pass the bill through the full Veterans' Affairs Committee.


Washington, DC - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement after the U.S. Army Reserve reported that Staff Sgt. Richard Billmeyer of Epworth was seriously injured in Afghanistan:

"My thoughts and prayers are with Richard and his family. As he begins his recovery, I hope he knows we're all pulling for him. My heart goes out to all the brave young men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country."


WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today announced that Humility of Mary Shelter, Inc. has received a $242,655 Homeless Prevention Grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

The funds are distributed through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program.  They are not earmarks determined by Congress.  Humility of Mary Shelter, Inc. can use the funds to provide services to approximately 125 households in Scott County, Iowa and Rock Island County, Illinois.  Services include case management, assistance in obtaining VA and/or public benefits, and temporary critical financial assistance.

"We owe a great deal to the men and women that serve our country.  These funds can help veterans who find themselves in a tough situation get back on their feet," Grassley said.


Washington, DC - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) announced a $242,655 grant award for Davenport, Iowa through the Department of Veterans Affairs' Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program. The grant will go to the Humility of Mary Shelter to serve over 100 homeless and at-risk veteran families in Scott County.

"This grant is an important step towards making sure our veterans get the care and services they need," said Rep. Braley. "No veteran or their family should be out on the street - but right now, it's a tragic reality and one we must work to fix as quickly as possible. That's why I'm proud to announce this grant for the Humility of Mary Shelter - and that's why I'll keep fighting to make sure our veterans, and their families, get the care and services they need."


ROCK FALLS, IL (07/26/2011)(readMedia)-- Capt. Michael Barton with the Illinois National Guard's 1644th Transportation Company has deployed and returned a decorated Soldier and now as the opportunity to deploy as the commander for the same unit.

Barton, a Greenview native, deployed as an enlisted Soldier with the 1644th in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004-2005, receiving a Purple Heart. Now as the commander of the Rock Falls unit, Barton believes he can do even more.

"With my other deployments, everything was being directed towards me," Barton said. "Now, I'm the one providing direction for the unit."

Barton deployed with the 1144th Transportation Battalion in 2007-2008 and received a Bronze Star for his service.

With two deployments under his belt, Barton took command of the 1644th in 2009. Barton admits to being a little nervous upon taking command, as he would be leading some of his former comrades. However, the Soldiers accepted him immediately and the relationship has only improved.

"When I found out he was coming back I was really excited," said Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Hacker of Rock Falls, a truckmaster with the unit who deployed with Barton in 2004. "He was a standout guy as an enlisted Soldier, and now he's a standout guy as an officer."

Now the 1644th will tackle line haul operations in Kuwait. They will move equipment throughout Kuwait and Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn.

"I'm excited for this deployment and what lies ahead for the 1644th," Barton said. "The team we have assembled is extremely professional, tactically and technically proficient. I have no doubt they will accomplish any mission that is given to them."

Lt. Col. Tracey Collins of Naperville, battalion commander for the 1644th, served with Barton when he was a young specialist and she was a youthful lieutenant with the Rock Falls unit. She said Barton is a great fit for the 1644th.

"Cpt. Barton is an awesome leader," Collins said. "You give him a mission and he runs with it. Having been in that unit for so long, he has established himself and earned the respect of his troops. I am 100% behind his leadership style."

While Barton is serving in an atypical role, he is commanding a unique unit. The 1644th has four husband and wife duos, two father and son tandems, and three groups of siblings in its ranks. Despite the familiar relations, Barton says this is the most professional team he has ever worked with.

"Being the commander of the 1644th has been the highlight of my 15 and a half year career to this point," Barton said.

The 1644th was mobilized in early July and will spend the next two months training at Fort Bliss, Texas prior to deploying to Kuwait. They will replace the 1244th Transportation Company from North Riverside, which was mobilized in September 2010.

Photo 1: Capt. Michael Barton of Greenview

Photo 2: Photo submitted/ Capt. Michael Barton of Greenview, then a staff sergeant with the 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls, sits atop a five-ton truck as his convoy travels through Iraq. Barton received a Purple Heart while deployed with the 1644th in 2004-2005. He is currently training in Fort Bliss, Texas preparing to deploy to the Iraq/Kuwait theater this summer, this time as the commander of the 1644th.

Photo 3: Photo submitted/ Capt. Michael Barton of Greenview, then a staff sergeant with the 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls, poses next to six Iraqi children. Barton was deployed with the 1644th in 2004-2005, receiving a Purple Heart. He is now preparing to deploy to Kuwait with the Rock Falls-based unit, this time as the commander.

Story by Spc. Brian Vorce, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

For high resolution photos, please contact the Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office at

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Bill would protect returning Iowa National Guard Members

Washington, DC -Today, the Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity unanimously passed Congressman Bruce Braley's bipartisan bill to help service members and veterans who return from combat and are facing foreclosure stay in their homes. The Protecting Veterans' Homes Act would protect veterans from being foreclosed upon by banks and would give returning Iowa National Guard soldiers peace of mind as many of them make their way home after a year-long deployment in Afghanistan.

"As hundreds of our National Guard troops make their way home to Iowa, this bill will give them the peace of mind that their homes and their families are safe," said Rep. Braley. "Too often, our soldiers return from combat only to face new challenges here at home. Whether it's an injury or a financial crisis caused by long deployments and time off from their civilian jobs, our veterans deserve to know that we're standing up for them. This bill will make sure our soldiers have enough time to get back on their feet and get their finances in order. This is the least we can do for the brave men and women who serve this country."

Currently, similar protections for veterans are set to expire in December 2012. The Protecting Veterans' Homes Act, introduced by Rep. Braley earlier this year, would make these protections permanent and would extend the grace period from nine months to a full year for service members and veterans returning from deployments. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), the Chairman of the VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

The Subcommittee also unanimously passed a bill to fund the U.S. Paralympics. Rep. Braley, a strong supporter of the U.S. Paralympics, voted in favor of the bill. Earlier thisyear, Rep. Braley met with Bettendorf-native Paralympian Andy Yohe to discuss the Paralympics and what Congress could do to ensure the success of the program.


Rock Island, Ill. -- (July 20, 2011) The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Rock Island District is continuing to concentrate on water safety outreach at its lake and river projects after a deadly start to the recreation season at USACE parks nationwide.

As of May 31, 57 people have died on Corps-owned property nationwide this year, compared to 39 at this time last year - a more than 32 percent increase. Most of these fatalities were from drowning. USACE officials report that more than 90 percent of drowning victims at USACE parks were not wearing a life jacket.

"Public safety is our number one priority," said Maj. Gen. Merdith W.B. Temple, acting commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "The increase in deaths at USACE parks this year is of great concern to us. We want to do everything we can to make people aware of potential risks when they visit one of our recreation areas, and how to make good decisions that will improve safety for themselves, families and friends."

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District Recreation Projects include : Saylorville Lake near Des Moines, Iowa; Lake Red Rock, Pella, Iowa; Coralville Lake, Iowa City, Iowa; the Mississippi River Project from Potosi, Wis., to Saverton, Mo.; and the Illinois Waterway from T.J. O'Brien Lock and Dam to La Grange Lock and Dam.

The Corps wants to remind its visitors to put safety first while recreating on its lands and waters.  Swim only in designated areas, learn to swim, use the buddy system, and do not exceed your abilities. Over half of the Rock Island District water related fatalities over the last 18 years have been swimming related.  If you are using your boat as a swim platform and jumping into the water to cool off do not forget to wear a life jacket. Limit your alcohol use and remember operating under the influence in a boat
in Iowa and Illinois is .08, just as it is in your automobile on the road. 

"Wearing a suitable life jacket is the single most important measure boaters and swimmers can take to decrease their risk of a water-related fatality. Just like wearing your seat belt in your car decreases your risk of serious injury or death," said Mike Cox, assistant operations manager, Rock Island District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

USACE officials encourage visitors to check local water and weather conditions and pay attention to recreation warnings, such as river closures from local emergency services offices prior to entering the water. Know your water and weather conditions before you go and let family and friends know where you are going and when you expect to return from your outing. You can find lake and river level information at  Officials stress the single most important item a person can do on the water to reduce risk is to wear a life jacket. USACE will continue its efforts to promote boating and water safety and with the public's support we will work to reduce
the risk and save lives. 

USACE is the nation's largest federal provider of outdoor recreation, hosting more than 370 million visits per year at 422 recreation parks in 43 states and we want our visitors to return to enjoy our sites again. 

For the USACE recreation area near you visit


July 20, 2011 / Encino, CA - In just two months since the program's launch, Operation Gratitude's Battalion Buddy Packages have brought smiles and hugs to 20,000 anxious sons and daughters of deploying U.S. military personnel.

In May, Operation Gratitude started sending special stuffed toys -- known as "Battalion Buddies" -- to the children of U.S. service members as their units prepare to deploy into harm'Battalion Buddy Toyss way. Each Battalion Buddy wears a tag saying: "Hi Brave Young Warrior! I am your Battalion Buddy. I am here to cuddle with you while your Mommy or Daddy is away."

Operation Gratitude's initial Battalion Buddy efforts were made possible by the McKesson Corporation, which provided a generous donation of thousands of the toys. The program has continued with the cooperation and support of Family Readiness Officers and battalion leaders nationwide. To date 20,000 packages have been shipped to 32 unique Zip Codes in 17 States plus Guam and Germany, and to 56 different deployed or deploying units.

"Battalion Buddies offer comfort and encouragement during a difficult time of separation," said Operation Gratitude founder, Carolyn Blashek. "We are excited that the momentum for this program is building and that more friends across the country are joining our efforts to support military children."

Blashek says the response from families receiving the Battalion Buddy packages has been overwhelming.Boy with his Battalion BuddyShe shared an email one deployed father recently sent from Afghanistan: "Thank you for what your organization does and the positive impact you have on the lives of military service members and their families," he wrote. "You bent over backwards to help us receive several hundred Battalion Buddies for our deploying unit and I for one was very grateful as my son and daughter absolutely loved them. According to my wife, they have kept them close every night as they go to sleep."

Along with the McKesson Corporation, Tobu Print Group, Inc., Frontline Freight and Reddaway Trucking have generously provided services to assist with the production and shipment of Battalion Buddy packages.

As with its Care Packages to deployed troops, Operation Gratitude's Battalion Buddy Program will provide American companies and every citizen opportunities to encourage the children of troops serving in combat by donating stuffed toys and contributing funds.

Those wishing to donate new stuffed toys (14-18 inches from head to toe) to be used as Battalion Buddies may send them to the following address:

Operation Gratitude
17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Attn: Battalion Buddy Program

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

Operation Gratitude
16444 Refugio Road
Encino, CA 91436

Corporate Donors should contact Blashek at regarding sponsorship opportunities. Family Readiness Officers and battalion leaders wishing to request Battalion Buddy packages should send an email to for more information.

About Operation Gratitude
Operation Gratitude annually sends 100,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in harm's way, to their children left behind, and to Wounded Warriors in Military hospitals and Transition Units. The organization's mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member's face and express to our Armed Forces and their families the appreciation and support of the American people. Each package contains donated product valued at ~$125 and costs the organization $15 to assemble and ship. For safety and security, assembling of packages occurs at the Army National Guard armory in Van Nuys, California. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than 660,000 packages to American Military members. 

Learn more about Operation Gratitude by visiting:


Washington, DC - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement after the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found serious problems with oversight of U.S. aid efforts and funds in Afghanistan in a new report:

"This report is very troubling and it underscores the need for us to get out of Afghanistan now. We're blindly spending billions in Afghanistan while our own economy is teetering between an anemic recovery and the brink of a default. I've called for a true accounting of the cost of the war in Afghanistan since I came to Congress. Now, after almost a decade in Afghanistan, thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars misspent, it's clear that the cost is too high. We need to end this quagmire immediately."

The report released today found that American funds in Afghanistan are likely to be misspent, embezzled and funneled to insurgents unless a far-reaching policy change is implemented.

"U.S. agencies...still have limited visibility over the circulation of these funds, leaving them vulnerable to fraud or diversion to insurgents. We found that agencies have not instituted sufficient controls over U.S. funds, limiting their oversight," the staff of acting Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction Herbert Richardson wrote in the report released on Wednesday. The U.S. has spent more than $70billion on security assistance and development projects in Afghanistan since 2002.