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Six local Illinois National Guard soldiers returned home in time for Christmas

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SPRINGFIELD (WEEK) -- Six Illinois National Guard soldiers on deployment in Afghanistan were able to return home in time for Christmas.

The six deployed on May 10 with the Bilateral Embedded Staff Team A23. They were Lt. Col. and BEST A23 Commander Michael Legler, of Pekin, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Maroon, of Morton, as well as others from Mt. Zion, Downs, Naplate and New Berlin.

The specialized unit was deployed in Operation Freedom's Sentinel to assist the Polish Military Contingent in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, according to a release by the Illinois National Guard.

“Our team also supported the planning and execution of security for high level meetings between the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan and Ambassadors of the United States and Great Britain at Bagram Airfield,” Legler said. “In addition, we developed contingency plans for future missions to ensure the smooth and successful transitions in support of the Resolute Support Commanders intent.”

The State Partnership Program between the Illinois National Guard and Poland was established in 1993, helping Poland emerge from the Warsaw Pact to become a member of NATO, according to the release.

In addition, Illinois Army National Guard troops have co-deployed with Poland on every Polish rotation to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.

In their deployment, the specialized unit assisted Polish Soldiers in over 200 combat and security missions, as well as Train, Advise and Assist operations throughout Afghanistan.

The soldiers did not have a formal welcome home ceremony, but "instead focusing strictly on reuniting with their families," according to the release.

Drew Veskauf

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