|A group of area Natioanl Guard soldiers came together once again to receive the thanks they deserve for defending our country in the current wars on terror, while again recognizing the two that loss their lives.
The Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Battalion, 106th Calvary in Kewanee were one of nine different guard groups across the state honored this weekend with Freedom Salutes from the Illinois National Guard. The group of 100 soldiers became part of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team that served in Afghanistan, which was the largest deployment of Illinois National Guardsmen to date.
Brigadier General Stephen Huber was the leader of the Illinois National Guard in Afghanistan, and told the troops the work those and other troops have done in Afghanistan was extremely crucial.
"The outstanding performance of the men and women standing before us, and all of the members of the Illinois National Guard that deployed in support of this task force, have made a significant impact on building that capacity for the Afghan army and Afghan police," Huber said.
Huber called it the "center of gravity" for the operations in Afghanistan.
State Representative Don Moffitt was one of two local politicians who spoke at the ceremony. He told the soldiers they certainly did World War Two veterans very proud.
"Our soldiers that we are honoring here today, those of you standing before us, you're proof positive that the spirit of the 'Greatest Generation' lives on," Moffitt said. "The spirit of the 'Greatest Generation' is alive and well."
The City of Kewanee received a special award from the Guard -- a Center of Influence Award -- for the city's support of the guard troops based there. Kewanee Mayor Bruce Tossell says he and the city council there can't thank the troops enough.
"Your service has brought something special to our community," Tossell said. "It has ignited the flame of patriotism, and has brought a new respect for our flag because of your service."
Soldiers were recognized for the first, second, and in some cases third deployments with a number of medals and other items they could either keep or give to their families and employers.
Troops from all over Illinois serve in the Kewanee guard unit. Staff Sergeant Larry Wolf is from Dixon, and tells WGIL the support he and the other troops received in Kewanee is nothing like what some of his colleagues in Dixon felt.
"I live in another town, where another army deployed, and what they received and what we received is very different," Wolf said.
Specialist Johnathan McCarthy is from DeKalb, and tells WGIL he agrees. "This is one of the most welcoming communities I've ever had the part to be around," McCarthy said. "Everybody here is very patriotic. You go to any of the shops...they are very kind people."
McCarthy says living in a college town, people don't necessarily recognize him as a soldier, but is honored for the support he gets when he's recognized as one when in Kewanee.
The unit also recognized Sergeant Schuyler Patch of Galva who died last February while serving in Afghanistan, and Staff Sergeant Paul Smith of Peoria, who died last June.
(Members of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Battalion, 106th Calvary salute the American Flag during the National Anthem at a "Freedom Salute" ceremony Saturday in Kewanee.
(A member of the Kewanee Veterans Council looks over a memorial to fallen soldiers Sgt. Schuyler Patch and SSG Paul Smith of Peoria.)
(Some of the awards Guardmen received during the "Freedom Salute.")
(State Rep. Don Moffitt, far left, speaks during Saturday's ceremony.)
(Amber Patch-Troxell, sister of Sgt. Schuyler Patch, receives awards posthumously given to her brother at Saturday's Freedom Salute. WGIL News Story and Photos by Will Stevenson.)