National Guard sent south

By Richard Snowden

As recovery efforts continue in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Illinois National Guard units continue to provide assistance on the Gulf Coast, including a local detachment.

Members of the Sycamore-based 122nd Field Artillery unit were dispatched by Gov. Rod Blagojevich last week to join the more than 800 Illinois troops on the ground in Louisiana.

After stopping at the Marseilles Training Area in LaSalle County to cover administrative issues and receive necessary immunizations, the Sycamore-based unit headed for Louisiana, where it is expected to remain for 30 days.

Staff Sgt. Clayton Riley, a member of the 122nd Field Artillery, said the unit is playing a supporting role in the ongoing recovery effort.

“They’re working in support of the Katrina relief effort, operating out of Bell Chase Naval Air Station,” Riley said. “They’re currently deployed in the New Orleans area and surrounding areas.”

Lt. Col. Tim Franklin, a Springfield-based spokesman for the Illinois National Guard, said the primary task of Illinois guardsmen in the New Orleans area, including members of the 122nd Field Artillery, is to provide security services.

“We’ve got about 350 soldiers operating in the New Orleans area,” Franklin said. “It’s a security task force, providing checkpoints and access control to some areas that are still not open to the public.”

The 122nd Field Artillery is engaging in security operations due to its specialized training, Franklin said.

The Sycamore unit had security training in the past and is using those skills in New Orleans.

“The Sycamore unit was chosen for security purposes since part of the training for field artillery units specifically involves security-type tasks,” Franklin said.

Detachments from the Illinois National Guard have been providing assistance to disaster-affected areas along the Gulf Coast since the end of August, said Gerardo Cardenas, Chicago press secretary for Gov. Blagojevich.

“Aug. 31 was the first deployment of Illinois troops,” Cardenas said. “It consisted of 300 troops and 50 vehicles that were sent to provide rescue services, clean up the devastated areas and provide security.”

The Illinois National Guard also sent three Black Hawk helicopters and 15 troops to Texas to help with evacuation-related activities, Cardenas said.

To compensate for being away from their regular jobs, the Illinois guard members are receiving the same wages and benefits as active-duty troops.

“They’re on Title 32 status, which means they’re still under state control but are receiving federal active-duty pay and benefits while they’re deployed,” Franklin said.

Riley said the Sycamore guard members were pleased to be able to provide assistance in the disaster-affected areas.

“Everybody was glad to go down there and do their part in support of the relief effort,” Riley said. “Morale was high as always, and everyone looked forward to helping out.”