Former Tolono teacher leading major military training exercise

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SPRINGFIELD, IL (07/16/2018) (readMedia)-- He traded teaching middle school students for leading National Guard Soldiers. Now Col. Mark Alessia of Sherman, Illinois, is leading a massive month-long military training exercise.

Alessia and approximately 4,500 Illinois Army National Guard (ILARNG) Soldiers under him are headed for a month of combat training exercises at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Alessia is Commander of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), which is headed for JRTC training along with more than two dozen enabler units from around the United States. The 33rd IBCT is based in Urbana and has subordinate units throughout Illinois.

Alessia joined the ILARNG in 1992 as an enlisted Infantry Soldier and served while earning his Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He then taught middle school math and history at Tolono CUSD #7, while serving as a traditional civilian-soldier until 2003 when he began working for the Guard full-time. Alessia says making the transition to full-time military duty was all about spending more time with his family.

"I'd been mobilized for active duty two times in two years. So while I loved both the military and teaching, when the opportunity came up to be active duty and stay local, and concentrate on one profession, it was an easy decision to make the switch to full-time military service."

Alessia says many of the skills he used in the middle school classroom still translate well to his command of the 33rd IBCT.

"As a teacher, you have to work with people – teachers, administrators, parents, students. The inter-personal skills to be a successful teacher are the same skills to be a successful leader."

The Soldiers of the 33rd IBCT will train in realistic combat exercises throughout their rotation into August at JRTC.

Photo Cutline 1: Col. Mark Alessia of Sherman, Illinois, Commander of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), Illinois Army National Guard (ILARNG)