Specialized Springfield-based National Guard team returns from Afghanistan

Several Soldiers arrive home in time for Father's Day

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SPRINGFIELD, IL (07/03/2018) (readMedia)-- A handful of Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers who served in Afghanistan recently returned to reunite with their families. Several returned home in time for Father's Day. One Soldier was reunited with his family this past weekend.

The Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers, who were part of the Bilateral Embedded Staff Team-Afghanistan (BEST-A20), mobilized in November. The troops are from: Normal, Carterville, McLean, Springfield and Homewood, Illinois. One individual lives in Lorton, Virginia. These Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan with the Polish Land Forces in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

This unique joint mission enabled Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers to deploy side-by-side with their Polish counterparts to support Task Force White Eagle, the Polish Military Contingent supporting the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The task force trained, advised and assisted 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.

"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."

The Illinois National Guard State Partnership Program with Poland is celebrating 25 years of joint partnership this year. Illinois National Guard Soldiers have deployed 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 70 partnerships, matching National Guards in each state with NATO nations.

"It is an honor to be part of the 25-year partnership between Poland and the Illinois National Guard," said BEST-A20 Commander, Lt. Col. Ronald Bonesz of Normal, Illinois. "Programs like this promote greater peace and stability in the world long into the future. Illinois is one of the only National Guard states that embeds Soldiers with their partners during a wartime mission, making our partnership one of the strongest throughout the United States. We worked quite well with our Polish counterparts and learned as much from them as I think they learned from us."

During the rotation, BEST-A20 assisted the Polish contingent by acting as a liaison between Polish and U.S. Forces, while providing administration, contracting, logistics, communication network and force protection support. The team also assisted with planning and coordination for the Polish expansion, which will occur during subsequent rotations, as well as worked to expand the current Polish operational missions in Bagram. Additionally, the team coordinated all aspects of three high-profile visits, including the Polish President, current and former Ministers of Defense and the Polish Operational Command's Commanding General.

BEST-A20 Soldiers conducted more than 90 joint-Guardian Angel missions. These missions provided support for key leader engagements between U.S. forces and the Afghanistan National Army, as well as detention center and court system personnel.

Father's Day was special for four Soldiers who were able to embrace their families in time for Father's Day. All of them are fathers themselves, but it was even more memorable for Bonesz who spent less than one week with his newborn son before he was mobilized.

"I am very excited to get back home and spend Father's Day with my wife, daughter and son," said Bonesz. "Although this was the shortest of my deployments, it felt like the longest, and I am very proud of my family, as well as the families of all the deployed Soldiers for their support and what they do at home while we are gone. In many ways, they are the true heroes!"

The Soldiers of BEST-A20 were selected for the mission based on their experience, training and skills and received both U.S., Polish, and NATO military awards including the Joint Service Commendation Medal. The Polish Military Contingent also presented the Soldiers with the Polish Afghanistan Star and the Polish Armed Forces Medal.

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

Photo: Several Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers who served in Afghanistan recently returned to reunite with their families. The Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers, who were part of the Bilateral Embedded Staff Team-Afghanistan and mobilized in November.

From left to right: Maj. Matthew Morse of Carterville, Illinois; Maj. David Laughlin of Lorton, Virginia; Lt. Col. Ronald Bonesz of Normal, Illinois; Master Sgt. Anthony Hodge of McLean, Illinois; Sgt. 1st Class Steven Garlisch of Springfield, Illinois and Sgt. 1st Class Devon Moss of Homewood, Illinois

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