Illinois National Guard Soldiers to march more than 130 miles for annual pilgrimage

10 Soldiers walk across Poland, celebrate 25 years of partnership

CZESTOCHOWA, POLAND (08/03/2018) (readMedia)-- March more than 130 miles in 10 days. That's the challenge for a group of 10 Illinois Army National Guard (ILARNG) Soldiers headed for Poland to take part in an annual pilgrimage from Warsaw to Czestochowa (pronounced 'Chen-sto-ho-vah') that coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Illinois National Guard's partnership with Poland.

For more than 300 years, the pilgrimage has been held in early August to celebrate Polish victory over Sweden in the 17th century. Each year, thousands of Catholics from around the world make the pilgrimage to Czestochowa, the site of the Black Madonna icon that is thought to have been painted by Saint Luke on a table built by Jesus Christ. Along the way of the 10-day march, these pilgrims, along with Soldiers from the U.S., Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, will participate in prayers, songs, and sermons broadcast over large speakers. The march ends in Czestochowa with thousands of participants and spectators taking part in the annual Armed Forces Day.

The march is sponsored by the Polish Armed Forces, which has been the Illinois National Guard's partner through its State Partnership Program (SPP) for the past 25 years. The SPP between Poland and the Illinois National Guard (ILNG) started in 1993, shortly after the Polish people broke from the Soviet Union and founded a new democratic government.

The ILNG's partnership with Poland was among the first National Guard Bureau (NGB) State Partnership Programs, and among the most successful. There are typically about 30 Security Cooperation events between the ILNG and Polish Armed Forces each year in support of U.S. European Command. NGB and the individual states now have 74 active partnerships and three new partnerships on the horizon.