By Sgt. Stephen Gifford
Joint Force Headquarters - Illinois National Guard
KANKAKEE, Illinois – Members of the Illinois National Guard, Gold Star families, civic leaders, and other residents gathered to remember the 33 Illinois National Guard Soldiers and one Airman lost during combat operations during the Global War on Terror. The event was held at the Kankakee Army Aviation Support Facility, Kankakee, Illinois, on Nov. 3.
Brig. Gen. Richard Neely, of Springfield, Illinois, the Adjutant General, Illinois National Guard, spoke on behalf of the all Illinois National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, remembering the sacrifice and celebrating the lives of the Illinois National Guard fallen. Neely stressed the continued importance of the relationship between the Illinois National Guard and the families of its fallen Soldiers and Airman.
“You are welcome wherever we gather. You will always have a place at our table,” Neely said. “If any of our Gold Star families need anything, my door is always open to you.”
The Illinois National Guard has supported several operations overseas including Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom since 9-11 by deploying approximately 20,000 Soldiers and Airmen since Sept. 11, 2001. The Department of Defense lists approximately 7,000 deaths during overseas operations since 9-11.
The 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed to Afghanistan in 2008-09, the largest single deployment of Illinois National Guard Soldiers since World War II. During the 2008-09 deployment the 33rd IBCT suffered 18 fatalities. Soldiers of the 33rd came from 30 units spread across Illinois.
Gold Star families attended the ceremony remembering their loved ones. The families in attendance were thanked by the several senior leaders of the Illinois National Guard for their continued service to the United States and their ongoing relationship with the men and women of the Illinois National Guard.
Col. (ret.) Ralph and Linda Grieco, of Bartlett, Illinois, attended the ceremony, their son Staff Sgt. Kevin Grieco, died from wounds sustained when a suicide bomber detonated explosives as Grieco entered a building in Afghanistan in Oct. 2008. The Griecos expressed appreciation for being included in the ceremony.
“The warmth we received from all those we met makes us feel a part of the Guard family,” Grieco said. “I know our son would be the first to say Hooah to all the Guard has done to embrace us all these years later.”
After the ceremony, the families in attendance boarded a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter for a flight with Neely. During the 30-minute flight, Neely and the families were offered unique views of the Illinois landscape and an opportunity to speak about the continued service of the men and women of the Illinois National Guard.