More than 300 Illinois National Guard soldiers prepare for deployment to Middle East

Stephanie Wade Image
Sunday, January 28, 2024
More than 300 Illinois National Guard soldiers to deploy to Middle East
More than 300 Illinois National Guard soldiers took the stage at Wintrust Arena ahead of their deployment to the Middle East for Operation Spartan Shield.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- More than 300 Illinois National Guard soldiers and their families are preparing for deployment to the Middle East on Saturday.

The soldiers took center stage at Wintrust Arena, preparing to mobilize.

"You're ready. You're ready. Showtime," said Major Gen. Rodney Boyd.

The soldiers are being deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield. Staff Sgt. Adam Raynor, who lives in St. John, Indiana, is among them.

"This will be my first deployment, first one in the books. They got me, so I'm ready to go. They trained us up," Raynor said.

Raynor said he's feeling a mix of anxiety and excitement.

"I would say, majority of this unit hasn't deployed. So we're anxious about leaving our families, leaving our loved ones, there's always that worry. But also excited," Raynor said.

On his second deployment, Staff Sgt. Monn Escalona knows this will be tough.

"For this time, it's very different, because with the first one, I was just leaving my wife. But the second one, I'm leaving a whole family," said Escalona, who lives in Waukegan.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker marked the momentous occasion.

"I take special pride upon deployments, knowing that your readiness is second to none in the nation. You are the best," Pritzker said.

Combat veteran U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth also spoke at the mobilization ceremony of the dangers soldiers are walking into and the respect for their sacrifice.

"We are in awe of your bravery and thank you for your commitment to our country. In fact, there's a saying that for those who serve in uniform, freedom has the flavor that the protected shall never taste," Duckworth said.

Though extremely difficult to leave loved ones behind, what remains in their hearts, they said, is serving.

"It's serving. Serving this beautiful country. It's everything, freedom and the family, of course," Escalona said.

"We are here for you guys. We're going to do our best out there," Raynor said.