Suburbanites among the 400 Illinois Army National Guardsmen off to Afghanistan

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The largest mobilization of Illinois Army National Guardmen in nearly a decade, including from companies in Elgin and Woodstock, starts Saturday.

The guardsmen are with the 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment headquartered in Chicago and including companies in Elgin, Woodstock, Chicago, Bartonville and Kankakee, and a detachment in Joliet, said Barbara Wilson, public affairs specialist for the Illinois Army National Guard.

The guardsmen are being mobilized in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which followed the Operation Enduring Freedom combat mission in Afghanistan and was designed to focus on training and counterterrorism efforts. They will train at Fort Bliss, Texas, before deploying to Afghanistan.

A mobilization ceremony takes place at 10 a.m. Saturday at Elgin Community College, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin, and another one at 4 p.m. Saturday at Woodstock High School, 501 W. South St., Woodstock.

Other ceremonies take place Sunday in Chicago and Kankakee, and Monday in Peoria.

Among those deployed is Wood Dale police officer Thomas Nickelson, whom the Wood Dale Police Department feted Friday.

“Today we were honored to thank Ofc. Nickelson for his service during his upcoming deployment with the U.S. Army,” the department posted on Facebook. “He will be on an overseas mission for at least the next year. Today was his last day on the street prior to his report date this weekend.”

“We look forward to welcoming him back to our family when he completes his tour of duty.”