SPRINGFIELD – Governor George H. Ryan announced today that he will host the public to a special evening reception at the Executive Mansion on October 23 to raise funds for the defense of Major William Umbach and Major Harry Schmidt of the Illinois Air National Guard’s 183rd Fighter Wing.
The event will be held from 5 PM to 8 PM. Tickets are $50 per person. All of the proceeds will go to the 183rd Pilots Defense Fund, which has been established by the Northenders VFW Post 10302 in Springfield.
“These two brave Illinois pilots need our help,” Ryan said. “Prosecuting these two men for this tragedy will only serve to hurt the morale of our nation’s fighting forces. This was a terrible tragedy, and my heart goes out to the families of the Canadian soldiers as do so many others here in Illinois. But as a nation at war we must find out what went wrong and try to correct it. The blame does not fall only on Majors Schmidt and Umbach.”
In April of 2002, four Canadian soldiers undergoing “live-fire” training exercises in Afghanistan were killed in a friendly-fire incident involving Umbach and Schmidt. Despite questions about whether the pilots were properly informed about the presence of allied troops conducting a training exercise in their patrol zone, the Air Force has recommended charging the pilots with assault, manslaughter and dereliction of duty. Both pilots will learn soon whether they will face a trial on these charges.
Umbach and Schmidt have hired expert attorneys and need the financial support of Illinois citizens in order to launch a successful defense.
All services, food and beverages for this evening at the Executive Mansion are being donated by local merchants. Tickets will be available in advance or at the gate on the night of the event.
“Harry Schmidt and William Umbach must live every day for the rest of their lives with the knowledge that they killed four comrades. Like them, those four brave soldiers were fighting to make the world a safer place. That’s a tremendous burden,” added Governor Ryan. “The last thing we should do is take two citizen soldiers who answered their country's call and prosecute them for an accident that occurred in the fog of war.”
Additional donations can be made to:
183rd Pilots Defense Fund
c/o VFW Post 10302
2349 Stockyard Road
Springfield, Illinois 62702