SPRINGFIELD -- Even though the war in Iraq is ending, the Illinois National Guard expects few changes because service members will continue to be dispatched to Afghanistan.

SPRINGFIELD -- Even though the war in Iraq is ending, the Illinois National Guard expects few changes because service members will continue to be dispatched to Afghanistan.


“We don’t really expect it to have much of an effect,” said Lt. Dutch Grove, a spokesman for the Illinois National Guard. “It’s kind of been a drawdown process over the last couple of years. The last unit we had in Iraq returned this fall.”


The Illinois National Guard also will continue to train for disaster relief and other homeland security missions, Grove said.


“There will be fewer deployments just because of the nature of the operation in Iraq, but from our viewpoint, we’ll continue to train and be ready for when we are needed and called into the fight. So that won’t change,” Grove said.


The last Illinois National Guard unit in Iraq, a medical unit based in Peoria, returned this past fall.


About 170 service members in the 1644th Transportation Company, based in Rock Falls, remain deployed in Kuwait. The 1644th provides support for units leaving Iraq and transportation services in Kuwait. It is scheduled to return in the summer of 2012.


“As you can imagine, a lot of stuff comes out of Iraq into Kuwait. Then it needs to be sorted and packaged for shipping,” Grove said. After the mission in Iraq is complete, “some will move to Afghanistan. Some will come back to the state.”


Since Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom began after Sept. 11, 2001, 20,000 Illinois National Guard soldiers and airmen have been deployed, including some who have been deployed more than once.


Of that number, 10,200 were in the Army Guard and 8,800 in the Air Guard.


The Illinois National Guard does not keep track of how many service members have been to Iraq and how many to Afghanistan.


Thirty-four Illinois National Guard members have been killed in the two wars, with 15 killed in Iraq.


The war has cost the state of Illinois virtually no money, Grove said.


“When we’re ordered to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever, that’s federal money,” he said. “Basically, they know years out, ‘OK, we’re going to need these units to replace the units that are there.’”


When an assignment is made, usually a year or two before the deployment, the Pentagon says, “here’s the money you need to do your training and meet these training requirements before you get to your mobilization station,” Grove said.


The Illinois National Guard has played a vital role in both operations, Grove said.


“The active component (regular Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines) could not have conducted those operations without the support of the National Guard as a whole,” Grove said. “As an opportunity to gain experience … and to show and to prove ourselves as a professional, ready and relevant force, that’s really what we’ve done over the last eight years in Iraq and in Afghanistan.”


Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523.