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Home : News
NEWS | Sept. 6, 2006

Illinois Army Guard Transformation Enhances Capabilities

By Stacey Rieger Illinois Department of Military Affairs

SPRINGFIELD - Starting last year, the Illinois Army National Guard began the transformation process, in conjunction with the reorganization of the Army, which brought extensive changes to the missions and capabilities of the Illinois Guard.

The Illinois Army National Guard is at the forefront of transformation, as one of only a few states hand-picked to lead the way. The end result of this 2-3 year process will be a force more responsive to regional combatant commanders’ needs, better employment of joint capabilities, force packaging and rapid deployment.

“When we started the transformation process, we set specific goals and priorities, one of which is to ensure that our Soldiers and their families are taken care of during this process,” said Maj. Gen. Randal Thomas, Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. “We continue to stress Soldier care and are very pleased with our progress and success. Illinois continues to be a viable fighting force supporting the Global War on Terror and a contributor to our nation’s defense.”

Some of the key changes and adjustments of transformation include new missions and career opportunities for Illinois Soldiers. According to Cpt. David Pond, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Battalion, 106th Cavalry commander, the training advantages under the new configuration has allowed Soldiers to attend different training schools and provided more opportunities for Soldiers to change their career path.

“The best advantage of transformation is the relevance of the unit now,” said Pond. “Being a part of the 33rd Brigade Combat Team gives us the marketable factor to receive more real world missions and being the cavalry squadron of the BCT puts us in the center of the BCT.”

The 106th Cavalry transformed from an Air Defense Artillery unit, a light infantry company, into a dismounted reconnaissance unit whose main mission is to be the eyes and ears for the Brigade Combat team, gathering information on the enemy. Even though the mission is completely different, the change did not affect Soldiers military occupation specialty as infantryman, although many Soldiers need to attend various specialty schools to become mission qualified. The major change is in regards to their equipment, as the unit formally engaged the enemy as a mounted unit with air defense artillery weaponry, now mainly performing reconnaissance missions, not engaging the enemy.

“Equipment issues continue to be a high priority,” said Pond. “We continue to work to get new equipment for training and to support the mission.”

Equipment is an important issue for many units undergoing transformation. According to Maj. Eric Little, Logistics Management Officer for Illinois Army National Guard Headquarters, National Guard Bureau has earmarked funds, both in fiscal year 2006 and 2007, for the Brigade Combat Team.

“We have been working closely with the brigade to purchase equipment needed as part of transformation,” said Little. “We are working hard to get all units the equipment they need, including shuffling equipment from one unit in the state that no longer needs it for their mission to other units that do. Just as with transformation, which is a multi-year process, equipping the force will be an ongoing process as equipment needs constantly change with new technology.”

Equipment will continue to be an issue as the Illinois Army National Guard transforms. While Little acknowledged the challenge of getting all units in the state the equipment they need, he stressed some of the successes including receiving engineering equipment from Missouri for the new engineer battalion. Another huge success is the cross-leveling of equipment throughout the country between Army National Guard units.

“Cross-leveling has been essential to the success of our transformation process, bringing in equipment and resources that would not have been available otherwise,” said Little. “We have also been able to get new equipment that brings our units into the 21st century in regards to technological advances in weapon systems and personal protective equipment. This new equipment also greatly enhances our capability to support homeland security missions.”

Other units at the forefront of transformation include the 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry, which changed from the 3rd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery, and the 634th Brigade Support Battalion. These units grew in size, adding new locations to their battalion structure and additional companies under their command.

According to Maj. Rodney Thacker, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry battalion officer in charge, the biggest challenge his units have faced is getting Soldiers scheduled for their military occupation specialty schools to convert them from artilleryman to infantryman. The other priority for Thacker was to make as smooth of a transition as possible between the units, as the field artillery unit combined with an existing infantry unit, adding new locations in Litchfield and Effingham, which now fall under the Marion headquarters.

“Tracking schools for 300 Soldiers has been difficult,” Thacker said, “but we also wanted to make sure the old 130th Infantry Soldiers feel welcomed into the new battalion. We have gone to great lengths to make sure they feel this change is a positive one and that their new headquarters has their best interest in mind.”

The 634th Brigade Support Battalion doubled in size as part of its transformation, going from approximately 350 personnel with four companies to more than 850 personnel in eight companies. While the mission and equipment did not greatly change, the expansion of companies and personnel has posed its own challenges. According to Maj. Lori Strode, 634th Brigade Support Battalion Commander, the brigade has significantly increased the number of officers and warrant officers in the battalion. The changes have also increased opportunity for career progression, provided a better understanding of the concept of support and provided opportunities to work more closely with their maneuver brethren and increased the range of military specialty occupations to choose from.

“The best advantage of transformation has been the increased career progression for our Soldiers,” said Strode. “Challenges still remain, as with other transforming units, to get additional equipment including vehicles, radios, and other such items, as well as fulfilling training requirements.”

The transformation of the Illinois Army National Guard continues to provide new challenges, new opportunities and new missions. As Thomas explained, transformation of the Illinois Army National Guard is imperative to keeping it a relevant force provider for the future and preparing it for 21st century threats.

Assistant Adjutant General for Army, Brig. Gen. Dennis Celletti, reemphasized that throughout the entire transformation process, our Soldiers have remained our top priority.

“Soldiers have been, are, and always will be the top priority of the Illinois Army National Guard,” said Celletti. “Transformation has provided an opportunity for us to enhance Soldier career progression, provide new and exciting missions to our Soldiers and provide for stability and predictability for our Soldiers and their families.”