For Jennifer Dischler, it was her years in the Illinois National Guard that gave her a deep respect for military veterans — and her career as a social worker at Pleasant View in Ottawa.
Friday, Nov. 3, with rifle in hand, she will be showing that respect as the first of 96 veterans to take a 15-minute watch during the ninth annual 24-hour Veterans Honor Guard Vigil at the War Memorial in downtown Ottawa’s Washington Square.
The opening ceremony will start at 4:45 p.m. with remarks by Mayor Robert Eschbach followed by the posting of Dischler as the lead honor guard at 5 p.m. Closing ceremonies will be at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4.
Dischler was selected for the tribute by the Ottawa American Legion, which organizes the event and this year is calling attention to service by women in the military.
Dischler, 38, a 1998 graduate of Ottawa High School, said she joined the National Guard for a variety of reasons.
“The biggest reason is it was a unique opportunity for me to get a look at the world, to see different things and meet different people,” she said. “But also it was a way to truly stand up for something bigger than myself, and I think that’s why a lot of veterans enlisted.”
Dischler was trained as a chemical operations specialist preparing for the possibility of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological warfare. She learned to identify different contaminates, and once identified how to decontaminate affected troops or equipment.
She ended up in the Illinois National Guard’s 5th Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear and High Explosive Response Force Package (CERFP) team. That unit’s mission is extracting people from confined spaces or collapsed structures in cooperation with local, state and federal agencies.
“If a building were to collapse, we would extract the people and then we would decontaminate any of the victims,” she said. “We would also treat and stabilize any medical casualties.”
Dischler, who had risen in rank to staff sergeant, left the guard after nine years to focus on the civilian career made possible by her time in the military.
With support from the federal G.I. Bill educational benefits and the Illinois veterans scholarship, she graduated from Illinois Valley Community College and Illinois State University.
“I’m extremely thankful for what the military did for me as far as my education,” she said. “It was 100 percent paid for. Plus, I also earned money when I drilled (with the guard), so that was a wonderful help getting through school and starting my career.”
At Pleasant View, Dischler works with the memory support unit dealing with people experiencing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“I very much love my job,” she said.
There is a lot to learn in the guard, and not just about the military, Dischler said.
“I strongly encourage the experience,” she said. “You’ll be pushed, but through the training you receive you’ll find out a lot about yourself and what you can handle. But you’ll also learn how to work as a part of a team — and I think that may be the biggest thing.”
Dischler said she was humbled by her selection as the lead honor guard for the vigil.
“My story is so insignificant in the bigger picture,” she said. “My personal focus is on the appreciation, respect and honor that I feel for all veterans. To them I say, God speed.”