CHICAGO – Calling it a “transforming experience”, Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn today detailed his trip to Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar last week - where he spent the New Year’s holidays with American troops - and urged generous public support for the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund tax check-off.
The first elected statewide official in the United States to tour the combat zone, Quinn joined NASCAR racing stars and employers of National Guard members for the five-day, 15,500-mile trip as part of the “Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Civic Leader Tour”.
Quinn - who slept in a military tent in Baghdad - traveled with a military convoy and flew aboard a Black Hawk helicopter to visit two forward operating bases in Iraq. He delivered Illinois state flags to be flown at five bases where Illinois troops are stationed, met with a Peoria-based Air National Guard unit dispatched to Iran for earthquake relief and served as an honor guard escort for two soldiers killed in action.
“This was a transforming experience,” Quinn said. “I saw firsthand the difficult living conditions in the bases, the constant danger of terrorist ambushes and the unique challenge of building a democratic peace in a place unaccustomed to self-governance.”
Quinn saluted the troops there who are involved in grassroots “civil duties” such as advising local governments on creating budgets, rebuilding shattered school systems and facilitating town hall meetings where everyone wants to have their say.
“It’s a challenging task,” Quinn said. “We’re involved in the most comprehensive effort to help a nation rebuild civilian society in more than a half-century.”
Quinn noted the proportion of National Guard members and reservists who comprise our fighting forces is at a record high (more than 25 percent of the troops now, and at least 40 percent projected by May). Since September 11, 2001, 193,959 National Guard members and reservists have been called to active duty, including 4,648 from Illinois. “We’re relying more heavily on our citizen soldiers than ever before,” Quinn said. “They represent the new face of the American soldier.”
Quinn greeted National Guard troops at several military bases and assured them they have not been forgotten on the homefront.
“I told our courageous men and women in uniform that their deeds are truly appreciated, and they will be welcomed home with open arms and hearts,” Quinn said. “I shared with them some of the acts of generosity by everyday people back home who are organizing bake sales and fundraising events to lend a helping hand to the families of those who serve.”
Quinn said the trip reinforced his commitment to make the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund tax check-off a success. This model program enables Illinois taxpayers to voluntarily donate to the Fund on their state income tax forms.
The first of its kind in the nation, the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund assists the families of Illinois National Guard members and reservists who experience a financial hardship when the breadwinner is called to active duty. Some 1,642 families have received $667,500 from the Fund already.
“I talked with citizen soldiers worried about whether their loved ones back home can pay the gas bill, make the rent or keep the car. These troops are squarely in the cross-hairs of terrorists and shouldn’t be concerned with household finances,” Quinn said. “I urge every Illinois taxpayer to donate $25, $10 or whatever you can afford to the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund on your income tax form.”
Quinn’s trek began on December 29 along with NASCAR drivers Johnny Sauter, Brendan Gaughan, Geoffrey Bodine, Ron Hornaday, Jr., and Rick Crawford, as well as race car team owners Jack Roush and Richard Childress.
Others on trip included U.S. Department of Defense officials and representatives of three companies which employ large numbers of National Guard members and reservists (Tyson Foods, Miller Brewing Company and D.H. Griffin Wrecking Company).
“These companies have gone above and beyond the call of duty in hiring and keeping National Guard members and reservists in their workforces,” Quinn said. “These employers know the value of having employees with military backgrounds, people with a sense of duty, discipline and teamwork.”
Quinn brought Illinois state flags that he delivered to five military bases where Illinois soldiers are stationed. “To see the familiar eagle of our state flag flying in the breeze over their tent in the desert was a great feeling for the Illinois troops who call it home,” Quinn said.
Quinn met with members of the Peoria-based 182nd Airlift Wing of the Illinois Air National Guard in Qatar who had just returned from Iran where they were assisting with earthquake relief in the devastated city of Bam. The unit made history by being the first United States military aircraft to land in Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis.
During the trip, Quinn bunked in military tents and joined the troops at their mess hall for meals. He spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day meeting with troops and pledged to contact the families back home of every Illinois soldier he encountered.
“This was an eye-opening way to ring in the New Year for me,” Quinn said. “To be in Iraq at the birth of their new nation and to watch our troops in their roles as grassroots builders of democracy was inspiring.”
“Abraham Lincoln reminded us of our duty as citizens to ‘care for them who have borne the battle.’ This visit strengthened my resolve to make sure we live up to Lincoln’s words and the Military Family Relief Fund is one way to do just that,” Quinn said.
For photos of Quinn’s trip or for information on the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund, visit www:OperationHomeFront.org.