Bills Prevent Winter Heat Shutoff, Increase Driver's License Renewal Period; Help Injured Veterans Access Needed Services

CHICAGO - July 3, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today signed three bills to provide more protections for Illinois' servicemembers and help injured Veterans get the services they need. Together, the bills will make Illinois a more supportive place to live for servicemembers and veterans.

"On the day before we celebrate our democracy, we want to remember and protect our heroic men and women who answered the call to service," said Governor Quinn. "When our Veterans and servicemembers return to their homes in Illinois, it is our duty to give them the thanks and respect they deserve."

These bills prevent Illinois utilities from cutting off heat to Veterans and servicemembers during the winter months; extend the driver's license renewal time for servicemembers returning from overseas or out-of state; and create a fund to support public service announcements to increase awareness of Veterans' programs.

Sponsored by Rep. Keith Farnham (D-Elgin) and Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin), House Bill 1260 prohibits utilities from cutting off heat to Veterans and Servicemembers during the winter months. Under the new law, gas and electric utility companies are prevented from cutting off gas or electricity to Veterans and servicemember's homes from Dec. 1 through March 31 of the following year.

Many of Illinois' men and women in uniform who serve out-of-state or overseas find it difficult to renew their driver's license within the time required under current law. Sponsored by Rep. Eddie Jackson (D-East St. Louis) and Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights), House Bill 3331 extends the expiration of a servicemember's driver's license to 120 days upon their return to Illinois. Current law only allows for a 90 day deferral.

House Bill 3275 creates a fund to support public service announcements to inform Illinois' Veterans and servicemembers of the benefits and services available for treatment of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. The fund will be administered by the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, which will collect private gifts, donations and charitable contributions to support the fund. The new law was sponsored by Rep. Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) and Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago).

"As a veteran of the Illinois Army National Guard, there are few things more important than helping our men and women in uniform," said Rep. Barickman, who sponsored HB 3275. "I'm proud of this law, which allows people to donate private dollars to promote services available to men and women injured in combat."

The three new laws take effect Jan. 1, 2012.

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Sgt. 1st Class Evadne Benson, center, First Army Equal Opportunity Advisor, meets with two squads of Military Explorers, from Post 9044 in Davenport, Iowa, and Post 120 from Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. The cadets, ranging from 11 to 21 years of age, are learning about the military ways of life prior to their potential future affiliation with the service of their choosing. The "Nighthawk" and "Green Dragon" squads took a guided tour of the new First Army headquarters building on Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. The group is conducting a four-day Explorer Challenge on "The Rock", consisting of military training and orientation events.   (Photo by Master Sgt. Danette Rodesky-Flores, First Army Public Affairs)

Washington, D.C. - Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement on President Obama's Afghanistan speech:

"Last night, the President laid out his vision for withdrawal from Afghanistan. I don't agree with his plan. It's time for our troops to start coming home now - and to be out of Afghanistan fully by the end of this year. Afghan security forces must be able stand up and take control of their country, Bin Laden is gone and America simply can't afford this war anymore. We've spent a decade in Afghanistan, and our country has paid tremendous costs: the lives of our young men and women, the sacrifice of our military families and the crippling budget deficits that will burden our children and grandchildren. It's time for our brave troops to come home."  

 

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FORT KNOX, KY. (06/23/2011)(readMedia)-- June 14, Spc. Scott Vanduker of Marion and Staff Sgt. Jimmy Ressel of Urbana were preparing for another day of training at Fort Knox, Ky. Instead, the Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers came across a privately owned vehicle overturned on the side of the road. The troops noticed there was a passenger in the vehicle and jumped into action. Both Soldiers were at Fort Knox for their annual two-week training, but this was real life.

"The biggest thing was all the Soldiers that were involved did the right thing," said Ressel, a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion,130th Infantry Regiment in Marion. "Other Soldiers in the area got out of their vehicles and made sure the vehicle wasn't going to tip over the rest of the way. People helping people, doing the right thing."

The overturned SUV had been westbound, while Ressel and Vanduker were heading the opposite direction. The victim overcorrected and lost control of the vehicle, causing the crash.

"We just ran up to the vehicle, opened the door and another Soldier cut his seatbelt and hoisted him out," said Vanduker, also of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion,130th Infantry Regiment in Marion. "The victim did not appear to be injured, just a bit dazed."

An Army medic also assisted at the scene before Fort Knox fire and rescue arrived.

"The thing I'd like people to take from this story is that we do more than just shoot and blow stuff up," Ressel said. "We're community minded and we did what needed to be done."

Photo: Photo by Spc. Jeffrey Granda, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ Staff Sgt. Jimmy Ressel of Urbana (left) and Spc. Scott Vanduker (right), both with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion,130th Infantry Regiment in Marion recently pulled a crash victim from an overturned car June 14 during annual training at Fort Knox, Ky.

For high resolution photos, please contact the Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office at ngilstaffpao@ng.army.mil

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) tonight issued the following statement after President Obama's primetime address on his proposal to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.  

"The men and women serving in our armed forces have more than succeeded in accomplishing the mission we asked them to do. They have served honorably and heroically and they should be commended. But, we must remember that we were in Afghanistan to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, to take down the main base of al Qaeda and to remove the Taliban from power.  Bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda's true base of power is now decentralized and in areas like Yemen, Somalia and North Africa; and the Taliban is no longer in charge of Afghanistan.   

"We cannot justify the continued loss of life when we have already lost thousands of men and women in our military, including 71 Iowans since 9/11; we also can't sustain the nearly $10 billion we are spending each month in Afghanistan this year.

"The President is taking the right action in redeploying troops from Afghanistan, but as I and several other senators urged him earlier this month, there should be more troops coming home sooner."

Last week, Harkin joined a bipartisan group of 27 senators in sending a letter to President Obama calling for a shift in strategy in Afghanistan, urging the President to use next month's deadline as an opportunity to begin a "sizable and sustained" drawdown of troops that puts the U.S. on a path toward removing all regular combat troops from the country.

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Washington, D.C. - Today, Americans and Gulf War veterans who were tortured and held as human shields and prisoners of war in Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime will finally get justice thanks to the efforts of Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) and the U.S. and Iraqi governments. The Iraqi government took the final step in resolving these claims by officially transferring the compensation funds to the U.S. government. The U.S. government will now use these funds to compensate the hundreds of American veterans and individuals who suffered under the Saddam Hussein regime. Following the State Department's announcement late last night, Rep. Braley released the following statement:

"I've worked for more than three years to make sure thatthese brave men and women get justice - and they've been waiting much longer than that. When our citizens are captured and tortured as prisoners of war,they deserve justice, period. This is not just to address the unimaginable wrongs that a few incredible individuals faced, but to send a clear message to the rest of the world: you will be held accountable for torturing Americans - because what happened to these individuals should never happen again.

"From the moment I heard about this case, to today's announcement that the Iraqi government has settled these claims, I've stood by these brave individuals and their right to be compensated for the horrible injustices they suffered. I believe every American should feel confident that their government will stand by them and protect them if they are tortured or wronged by any other government in the world. And each of us should feel that the United States will uphold the principles of the Third Geneva Convention, which expressly forbids action by our country to absolve another country from liability for torturing prisoners of war. This is a very important victory for these men and women and for every American who believes in justice."

In 2002, a group of American ex-prisoners of war who were brutally tortured in Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War sued Saddam Hussein's regime and eventually won a judgment against Hussein. But shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration stepped in and had the judgment overturned.
Rep. Braley then acted in Congress and passed the Justice for Victims of Torture and Terrorism Act - which restored a provision in the Defense Authorization Act to ensure that the Iraqi government finally satisfies outstanding judgments and claims by American victims of Iraqi torture and terrorism. Rep. Braley's bill also ensured that if American citizens are ever tortured by foreign governments, they can get justice and be properly compensated for their injuries.

Last night, the U.S. State Department issued a statement on the settlement noting that, "Congressman Bruce Braley's unwavering support of the administration's efforts to achieve resolution of the claims was instrumental throughout the process leading up to the conclusion of the agreement and beyond."

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MOUNT VERNON, IL (06/20/2011)(readMedia)-- The Illinois Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) unveiled a statue June 18 honoring female veterans in Mount Vernon. The statue, which shares the likeness of Illinois Army National Guard Soldier Maj. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, was sculpted by Don Morris, a native of Flora. The statue depicts Duckworth standing adjacent to Revolutionary War hero Margaret Ludwig Hays, better known as Molly Pitcher.

"I am proud that America now finally realizes that her daughters are just as capable of fighting for liberty and freedom as her sons," said Duckworth.

In 2004, while co-piloting a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, Duckworth's aircraft was hit by a rocket propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents. The explosion resulted in the loss of both her legs and extensive damage to her right arm. In 2006, the governor appointed her director of Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs, and in 2009 President Obama appointed her to serve as the Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Many people were on hand for the ceremony, including Congressman John Shimkus of the 19th Congressional District, numerous spectators, and a large contingent from the DAR, of which Duckworth is a member.

"I appreciate the fact that the state of Illinois (has) recognized women's service to the military," said Army Lt. Col. Natalie Northern, commander of the 633rd Theatre Gateway Personnel Accountability Team and a Springfield resident. Northern was deployed to Iraq the same time as Duckworth.

The ceremony was preceded by a parade that led to the Brehm Memorial Library, the site chosen by the DAR to house the veterans' memorial.

The memorial stands as a reminder of both the challenges faced and the strides women have made in the military.

"Women are rarely recognized, and as a woman, it's nice to be recognized," said Hallie Scott of Woodlawn. "It's nice that something big like this happens, (and) a big crowd from all over Illinois came here for people who are fighting for our country."

Duckworth said teamwork unites the country and makes the U.S. stronger.

During the ceremony Duckworth declared, "We are stronger as a nation when all of us participate, when it's not just men or women, or blacks or whites, when all of us participate together."

Photo 1: Photo by Spc. Brian Vorce, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ Illinois Army National Guard Maj. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates speaks at the statue unveiling June 18 in Mount Vernon. A statue sharing her likeness was uncovered at the ceremony.

Photo 2: Photo by Sgt. Charlie Helmholt, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ From left, Richard Groharing, the commander of the Illinois American Legion; Illinois Daughters of the American Revolution State Regent Luanne Frosch Bruckner; Maj. Tammy Duckworth; Mount Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesley; Statue Sculptor Don Morris; Statue Architect Brian Edmison all stand before the new statue in Mount Vernon. The statue was unveiled June 18 and honors women veterans.

Photo 3: Photo by Sgt. Charlie Helmholt, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/ Maj. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates is presented with a miniature replica of the Women Veterans Sculpture by Illinois Daughters of the American Revolution State Regent Luanne Frosch Bruckner and statue sculptor Don Morris. A statue bearing her likeness was unveiled in Mount Vernon June 18. The statue honors all women veterans for their sacrifice.

Story by Sgt. Charlie Helmholt and Spc. Brian Vorce. 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

For high resolution photos, please contact the Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office at ngilstaffpao@ng.army.mil

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MARSEILLES, IL (06/15/2011)(readMedia)-- Lt. Col. Jodi Padavana of Monroe Center, took command of the 44th Chemical Battalion in Galesburg June 14 at Marseilles Training Center.

Padavana served as the operations officer for the battalion in 2005 during the early stages of the 44th's mission as part of the Illinois National Guard's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP).

She later served as the unit's executive officer and interim battalion commander taking the unit to Mascatauck, Ind., for a full-scale exercise.

Brig. Gen. Robert Pratt of Hopedale, commander of the 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in Chicago, spoke following the ceremony.

"Of the one percent of Americans who serve the military, fewer serve as officers and company commanders and even fewer as battalion commanders," said Pratt.

Padavana said she plans to continue the development of unit's mission and the Soldiers of the CERFP.

"I welcome the challenge and opportunity to serve as ... battalion commander," said Padavana. "My goal is to transform every Soldier into a valuable productive member of my team."

Padavana takes over for outgoing commander Lt. Col. Marc Schwarzkope of York, Penn., who will be the force management branch chief with Joint Force Headquarters with the Illinois National Guard.

photo 1,2) U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael Camacho, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs/ Brig. Gen. Robert Pratt, of Hopedale and the commander of the 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, passes the battalion colors to Lt. Col. Jodi Padavana of Monroe Center, who took command of the 44th Chemical Battalion in a ceremony June 14 at Marseilles Training Center.

Story by Sgt. Michael Camacho, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs

Bipartisan Group Urges Accelerated Transition of Forces

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today joined a bipartisan group of 27 senators in sending a letter to President Obama calling for a shift in strategy in Afghanistan ahead of next month's announced deadline to begin an accelerated transition to Afghan security forces. In the letter, the senators urge the President to use the deadline as an opportunity to begin a "sizable and sustained" drawdown of troops that puts the U.S. on a path toward removing all regular combat troops from the country.

In their letter, the senators noted that the primary objectives for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan have been largely met - including the removal of the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the disruption of terrorist networks allied with Al Qaeda and those who planned the Sept. 11th attacks on the United States. Noting those successes and the ability to pursue counter-terrorism and humanitarian goals without a massive nation-building effort, the senators wrote, "the costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan."

"We urge you to follow through on the pledge you made to the American people to begin redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan this summer, and to do so in a manner that is sizable and sustained, and includes combat troops as well as logistical and support forces. We look forward to working with you to pursue a strategy in Afghanistan that makes our nation stronger and more secure," the letter reads.

The full text of the letter is below:

June 15, 2011

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to express our strong support for a shift in strategy and the beginning of a sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011.

In 2001 the United States rightfully and successfully intervened in Afghanistan with the goals of destroying al Qaeda's safe haven, removing the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, and pursuing those who planned the September 11 attacks on the United States. Those original goals have been largely met and today, as CIA Director Leon Panetta noted last June, "I think at most, we're looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less" al Qaeda members remaining in Afghanistan.

In addition, over the past few years, U.S. forces have killed or captured dozens of significant al Qaeda leaders. Then, on May 2, 2011, American Special Forces acting under your direction located and killed Osama bin Laden. The death of the founder of al Qaeda is a major blow that further weakens the terrorist organization.

From the initial authorization of military force through your most recent State of the Union speech, combating al Qaeda has always been the rationale for our military presence in Afghanistan. Given our successes, it is the right moment to initiate a sizable and sustained reduction in forces, with the goal of steadily redeploying all regular combat troops.

There are those who argue that rather than reduce our forces, we should maintain a significant number of troops in order to support a lengthy counter-insurgency and nation building effort. This is misguided. We will never be able to secure and police every town and village in Afghanistan. Nor will we be able to build Afghanistan from the ground up into a Western-style democracy.

Endemic corruption in Afghanistan diverts resources intended to build roads, schools, and clinics, and some of these funds end up in the hands of the insurgents. Appointments of provincial and local officials on the basis of personal alliances and graft leads to deep mistrust by the Afghan population. While it is a laudable objective to attempt to build new civic institutions in Afghanistan, this goal does not justify the loss of American lives or the investment of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Instead of continuing to be embroiled in ancient local and regional conflicts in Afghanistan, we must accelerate the transfer of responsibility for Afghanistan's development to the Afghan people and their government. We should maintain our capacity to eliminate any new terrorist threats, continue to train the Afghan National Security Forces, and maintain our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. However, these objectives do not require the presence of over 100,000 American troops engaged in intensive combat operations.

Mr. President, according to our own intelligence officials, al Qaeda no longer has a large presence in Afghanistan, and, as the strike against bin Laden demonstrated, we have the capacity to confront our terrorist enemies with a dramatically smaller footprint. The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.

We urge you to follow through on the pledge you made to the American people to begin the redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan this summer, and to do so in a manner that is sizable and sustained, and includes combat troops as well as logistical and support forces.

We look forward to working with you to pursue a strategy in Afghanistan that makes our nation stronger and more secure.

Sincerely,

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Nearly 20 Soldiers Mobilize June 21 As Part of an Embedded Training Team

SPRINGFIELD, IL (06/14/2011)(readMedia)-- A deployment ceremony is scheduled for approximately 20 Soldiers who will deploy to Afghanistan as part of an embedded training team. The ceremony for the Bilateral Embedded Staff Team (BEST) A8 will be June 21 at 1 p.m. at the Illinois Military Academy at Camp Lincoln in Springfield.

The BEST Soldiers will train for a brief time at Camp Atterbury, Ind., before deploying to Poland for approximately two months to train with the Polish Land Forces. The unique mission allows Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers to train and deploy side-by-side with their Polish counterparts. Following the training, the Soldiers will deploy to Afghanistan for a six-month mobilization. The Soldiers are from various parts of Illinois and were selected for the mission based on their training and skills.

"This mobilization illustrates the diverse skill sets and training of our Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers and the variety of missions we support in today's challenging international environment, as well as in our state and community," said Maj. Gen. William Enyart, Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. "These troops are instrumental in helping train foreign Soldiers to defend their country while polishing our Guardsmen's skills."

The team will assist the Afghan government to extend its authority across the country, perform security operations and help stabilize the war-torn nation. The Soldiers will also mentor and support the Afghan National Army and support Afghan government programs to disarm illegally armed groups.

News media attending the event should arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the ceremony and are required to notify the Public Affairs Office by 8 a.m., June 21 or they will not be allowed access onto Camp Lincoln. For more information call the Public Affairs Office at 217-761-3569.

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