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Illinois Governor JB Pritzker awarded Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard, with the Illinois Distinguished Service Medal for the general’s “leadership and poise” during the state’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
The Governor, who is the Illinois National Guard’s Commander-in-Chief, awarded the medal to General Neely during the Guard’s quarterly Senior Leader Engagement on Aug. 19 at Manufacturing times Digital (MxD) in Chicago.
“The Illinois National Guard is the best National Guard force in the nation and it has the best leadership with Major General Rich Neely,” Governor Pritzker said. “The State of Illinois is grateful for how the Illinois National Guard responded to the COVID-19 pandemic saving countless lives with their fast and innovative support to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health. The Guard is truly ‘Always Ready’ and ‘Always There’ when the State of Illinois needs it.”
The COVID-19 response was among the largest domestic response activations of the Illinois National Guard in history. The award cites Neely for providing “leadership and poise” as well as “clear and concise operational guidance” to his Soldiers and Airmen in establishing more than 630 vaccination sites in 241 communities throughout 71 of Illinois’ 102 counties.
Under Neely’s leadership, the Illinois National Guard conducted over 220,500 man-days of support to COVID-19 vaccination efforts resulting in more than 1.87 million doses of vaccine being administered to the citizens of Illinois.
General Neely, who lives and was raised in central Illinois, said he was honored – and surprised – by the Illinois Distinguished Service Medal. “This medal has my name on it, but it is really the Soldiers, Airmen and civilian employees of the Illinois National Guard and the Illinois Department of Military Affairs who earned it,” the general said. “The COVID-19 response was an example of what this state can accomplish working together. The cooperation and unity of effort from FEMA, IEMA, IDPH, local health departments, first responders, municipalities, counties, community agencies and many businesses saved countless lives. I’m proud to have been part of it and I’m proud that the Illinois National Guard played a vital role in this all-out team effort.”