Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia presents Democrat U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois a plaque commemorating her military service in Iraq during a bipartisan congressional delegation visit to Iraq in April.  Pictured from left to right is Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Senator Duckworth (D-IL) and Senator Angus King (I-ME). Submitted photo

The National Guard Association of Illinois honored U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth as the NGAI Legislator of the Year during its annual awards ceremony on Friday, May 20.

“I’m so honored to receive this award from an association that has meant so much to me since I joined the Illinois National Guard so many years ago,” said Duckworth, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard. “As your senator, I work hard to make sure our service members, veterans and families have the support they deserve.”

The first female double amputee of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Duckworth serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is the chairman of the Airland sub-committee. She expressed pride that some of her provisions were included in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“One of the provisions included requires the Air Force to maintain a sufficient fleet of C-130s to ensure there is inventory to carry out critical missions both domestically and overseas,” she said. “This will ensure the 182nd Airlift Wings’ — based in Peoria — mission will remain for years to come.”

She added it would not only give Illinois the ability to respond to emergencies and domestic missions, but also would protect the jobs of 1,250 airmen and about 370 full-time employees.

Praise for Duckworth: ‘She gets it’

Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard said Duckworth’s support of service members, veterans and families is the reason she was selected as the NGAI Legislator of the Year.

“She gets it. She has worn the same uniform as we do. She has served in the same formations,” Neely said. “It makes my job as TAG a lot easier when I walk in a room and explain our issues at hand to someone who has worn the uniform.”

Speaker addresses Illinois’ role in Ukraine

Former U.S. Congressman and retired major general William L. Enyart, who served as the 37th Adjutant General of Illinois, began his keynote address with a nod to Duckworth.

“Having one of our own serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee is of critical importance to us,” he said. “Her selection is a well-earned honor for her. She is truly an advocate for the National Guard, Illinois, and national security.”

Enyart talked about the connection between the Illinois National Guard and the Ukrainian military.

“There has been mention of the Illinois National Guard training the Ukrainian military recently and maybe a word or two about the California National Guard training the Ukrainian military. But we were there at the beginning,” Enyart said. “The Illinois National Guard’s support to Ukraine begin in the last century when we sent a platoon-size element to Ukraine in 1999. That was our beginning with Ukraine.”

Enyart explained that the State Partnership Program with Ukraine’s neighboring country Poland began in 1993 and at times, supported Ukraine and assisted the California National Guard with their SPP with Ukraine.

“With our training and assistance, Poland and Ukraine in the late 1990s formed the Polish Ukrainian Peace Force Battalion,” he continued. “Those same units saw service in Kosovo with soldiers from the Illinois Army National Guard’s 106th Aviation Regiment in 2008-2009.”

Enyart said the Ukrainian soldiers and officers were becoming well-acquainted with the Illinois National Guard by that time.

“When I visited the Illinois National Guard Soldiers in November 2008 in Kosovo, it was the Polish and Ukrainian soldiers who took me on patrol in a 12-inch snowstorm,” he said. “Even before the 2008 deployment, the Illinois National Guard sent battalion size units to NATO Peace Shield exercises in Yavoriv, Ukraine in 2000 and 2001 — Yes, Yavoriv, the same city which was hit recently by Russian cruise missiles.”

Enyart stressed the training assistance did not end in 2001.

“In 2005, we sent an element to act as observers and controllers for NATO war games that took place at the then-new Ukrainian War College,” he said. “It was a challenge in the early days.”

He told the audience the soldiers from Headquarters Company, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which deployed to Ukraine in 2020, continued to build on the foundation the ILNG has laid for the past 23 years.

“The Pentagon thought Putin’s grand land grab would succeed in very short order and most believed Ukrainian’s military would collapse under an armored assault,” he said. “But Ukrainians have shown what well-trained and well-led soldiers can do in defending their homeland from an autocratic aggressor.”

Enyart said the training, mentoring and fellowship the Illinois National Guard has provided the Ukrainian military has played a critical role in the successful defense of their homeland.


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