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NEWS | Feb. 8, 2023

Approximately 190 Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers mobilize for overseas mission

Approximately 190 Soldiers from the Illinois Army National Guard’s 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, based in Peoria, and Company B, 935th Aviation Support Battalion, based in Kankakee, mobilized for an overseas mission to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in a ceremony Feb. 7 at the 182nd Airlift Wing, in Peoria.

During the deployment the unit will provide aviation support to U.S. forces in the Middle East.

"In its 300-year history, every member of the Illinois National Guard has been always ready, always there to defend our homeland,” said Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker. “To the Soldiers of the 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, you make us proud, including by standing at the forefront of innovation by field-testing the UH-60V Blackhawk helicopter. Your willingness helped enhance our military capabilities to take us into the future.”

 The UH-60V Blackhawk helicopter is an upgrade to the Blackhawk helicopter currently used by the U.S. Army, the UH-60L, with a comprehensive cockpit redesign which replaces the legacy analog instrumentation with a fully open, digital, and integrated avionic suite.

 Pritzker also thanked the family, friends, and employers of the 106th’s Soldiers.

 “Thank you to those who toiled in the background doing what is necessary to ensure the 106th was ready for this deployment,” he said. “The Illinois National Guard would not be able to complete its missions, from combat to emergency response, without your sacrifices. On behalf of Illinois, we are eternally grateful.”

 Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton told the Soldiers it was an honor to join family and friends to show her gratitude and commitment to supporting their service.

 “Thank you for everything you do for our nation, state and our communities,” she said. “Many of you deploying today have been down this road before. The 106th Aviation Battalion has been called to serve many times over the years for both its federal mission and its state mission, responding to emergencies wherever you are needed.”

 Stratton said for many of the Soldiers and their families, this deployment is a familiar turn on the road of life, but she wanted to remind the Soldiers and their families, whether it’s a first deployment or just one more deployment, there are resources available for both Soldiers and their families if they are in need.

 “Both during the deployment and after you return, these resources are in place to help you,” she said. “There are nearly 200 organizations with resources available to offer a no wrong door system of support. I’m proud that Illinois has a robust community dedicated to support our military community and our veterans.”

 Stratton said the most important resource is the Soldier.

 “You, your fellow Soldiers and families reach out to your family readiness groups, your chaplain network, your leadership team,” she said. “If you need assistance, reach out. We have seen what you contribute to our nation, and we want to give back.”

 Stratton offered her heartfelt gratitude to the deploying Soldiers and their families.

 “Being apart is not easy. I hope you draw on your faith to see you through,” she said. “Just know we stand with you and always will.”

 Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois, and Commander of the Illinois National Guard, thanked everyone for attending the ceremony.

 “We’ve recognized a lot of dignitaries and important people today,” he said. “But the most important people are the Soldiers standing in front of us who will deploy to the Middle East and support this mission and our country. The rest of us are just here to recognize and honor your amazing service and what you are about to do as you carry the flag of freedom around the world.”

 Neely reminded the Soldiers the Illinois National Guard celebrates its 300th year of service in 2023 and they are a part of that 300-year history.

 “It’s humbling if you think about the number of Soldiers and Airmen who have deployed to defend this great nation, both at home and abroad,” Neely said. “The 106th has led the innovation of the UH-60V, not only being the first unit to field the helicopter, but also the first unit to deploy with the helicopter.”

 Neely said the Illinois National Guard must continue to lead the nation with tech skills.

 “That’s exactly what you have done, and you set the bar very high,” he said. “We are very proud of each of you. You have answered the call because this mission is very important. Each of you truly epitomize the value of the Soldier and what it is to be a member of the National Guard, men and women who protect their neighbors and defend their nation.”

 Neely said family is important to the Soldiers’ success.

 “We could not do this job without their support,” he said. “To the families, you must continue, so it will be you who will pick up the load of your Soldier.”

 Maj. Gen. Rodney Boyd, Assistant Adjutant General – Army and Commander of the Illinois Army National Guard, challenged the deploying Soldiers to use the time overseas to better themselves.

 “Every now and then you get to do something amazing in your career. Today is that opportunity to go downrange and do something great for this nation,” Boyd said. “Challenge yourself to come back a better person. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open to your family. Be safe in all you do but don’t get too comfortable. You’re ready for this mission.”

 Lt. Col. Jason Celletti, Commander of the 106th Aviation Regiment, said it has been nearly 20 years since the battalion left for its first deployment overseas.

 “Task Force Blackhorse has answered the call time and time again in the history of this battalion,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the professionalism of the Soldiers here today.”

 Celletti said he couldn’t guarantee there will be no challenges throughout the deployment, but is confident in the unit’s ability to overcome any challenge.

 “The Blackhorse can work through any challenge, as we have the past two years and many more times before then,” he said.

 Celletti thanked the families for their support.

 “You all are a vital part of the Blackhorse team. I urge you to reach out to the family readiness groups and the other resources available,” he said. “We are all in this together.”