Guard program to help families at home while loved ones deploy to Afghanistan

Bilateral Embedded Staff Team
Members of the Illinois National Guard’s Bilateral Embedded Staff Team took part in a deployment ceremony at Camp Lincoln, Springfield, Ill. on Thursday. (Photo courtesy Facebook/Illinois National Guard)

By Greg Bishop/Illinois Radio Network

SPRINGFIELD – The mission is both abroad and at home for the Illinois National Guard, which is sending off six soldiers to support missions in Afghanistan.

The overseas mission has six of the Guard’s Bilateral Embedded Staff Team, or BEST, members headed to work alongside their Polish counterparts in the Middle East for six months. One of the soldiers, Lt. Col. Ron Bonesz, just had a baby.

“The due date was today,” Ron’s wife, Blair, said on Thursday. “So we induced early so he could see the little guy.”

Ron Bonesz was relieved he could spend some time with his newborn son before he deployed.

“I’m very grateful that I had a chance to witness the birth of my son,” Ron said. “I know that he’s well, my wife’s well, my daughter is also well. It’s a great feeling. I can go overseas, knock this mission out, and get back home to them as soon as possible.”

Ron and other team members leave just before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but he said his wife and kids will have each other and other family members around during the holidays.

Illinois National Guard Maj. Gen. Richard Hayes said while Ron is overseas ensuring a successful mission abroad, the Guard’s Family Readiness Program ensures things are taken care of at home.

“It’s basically the families,” Hayes said of the 100 members of the program. “It provides a venue for them to get together because they clearly have many things in common and this support network is there to do one thing: make sure the family is taken care of.”

Blair hopes the program helps where Ron can’t while he’s overseas.

“We have a pretty great partnership,” she said. “He does his things and I do mine, and when he’s not there I don’t necessarily know how to do his things. So that’s kind of where I hope they will step in to help with the things that are not my forté.”

Hayes said the program is extremely important.

“When the soldier is deployed overseas, they get distracted if things aren’t going well at home,” Hayes said. “That puts their lives at risk, and it puts the lives of others around them at risk. So we do everything we can to reduce the burden whether it’s a financial burden, emotional burden.”

Ron said the program will give him peace of mind to focus on the mission and get back home to his family safely.

Bonesz and his team won’t be in the most hospitable climate.

“They’ll be in a base,” Hayes said. “They will travel out to advise and assist local security forces, so they’ll be out of the wire so-to-speak. It’s going to be risky every day. … It’s not tents, necessarily, but it is not the greatest. But they’re soldiers, they’ll do well.”

They will have access to modern communications, which Ron said is great for him to talk with Blair.

“Social media is great, the usage of cellphones has gotten a lot easier over there,” Ron said. “There is a multitude of ways that the soldiers can get in touch with their family members,” including video messaging services.

The guardsmen being deployed overseas are Maj. David Laughlin, Maj. Matthew Morse, Master Sgt. Anthony Hodge, Sgt. 1st Class Devon Moss, Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Garlisch and Bonesz.

They are from Normal, Carterville, McLean, Springfield and Homewood, Illinois, as well as Lorton, Virginia.

The BEST team is expected to return summer of 2018.


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