Specialized Springfield-based National Guard team returns from Afghanistan

SPRINGFIELD, IL (12/12/2017) (readMedia)-- Approximately 10 Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers who served in Afghanistan returned earlier this month and were reunited with their families.

The Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers who were part of the Bilateral Embedded Support Team-Afghanistan (BEST-A19) mobilized in May. The troops are from: Rock Island, Hanover Park, New Berlin, Bloomington, Mount Prospect and Bryant, Illinois. These Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan with the Polish Land Forces in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

This unique joint mission enables Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers to deploy side-by-side with Polish counterparts as part of Task Force White Eagle, the Polish National Support Element supporting the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The task force trained, advised and assisted the Afghan National Defense Security Forces, as well as the National Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior, in an effort to strengthen the security and stability of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

During their rotation, BEST-A19 helped the Polish military expand their force in the region, training them to conduct force protection missions throughout the area.

"We worked well with our Polish counterparts and made Afghanistan a safer place," said Lt. Col. Corey Wise of Bryant, Illinois, Commander of BEST A19. "I am proud of our team and what we accomplished during our six months in theater."

The BEST-A19 Soldiers reside in various parts of Illinois and were selected for the mission based on their experience, training and skills. Members of the team received both U.S., Polish and NATO military awards including the Joint Service Commendation Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, Overseas Service Ribbon, Afghanistan NATO Medal and Polish Afghanistan Star.

The Illinois National Guard State Partnership Program started in 1993, with Illinois National Guard Soldiers deploying with the Polish Armed Forces in every rotation to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. It is one of the oldest and largest of the more than 60 partnerships, matching National Guards in each state with other NATO nations.

"Our relationship with our Polish counterparts and the European Command is at an all-time high," said Maj. Gen. Richard Hayes Jr., Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. "We conduct training events aimed at building readiness with the Polish Armed Forces each year. These are military-to-military security cooperation events that demonstrate a continued commitment to the collective security of Poland, NATO and, of course, the United States."

For more information call the Public Affairs Office at 217-761-3569.

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