SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – Governor JB Pritzker awarded Maj. General Rich Neely the Distinguished Service Medal Friday for his leadership and poise during the state’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts. 

“The State of Illinois is grateful for how the Illinois National Guard responded to the COVID-19 pandemic saving countless lives with their fast and innovative support to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health,” Pritzker said. “The Guard is truly ‘Always Ready’ and ‘Always There’ when the State of Illinois needs it.” 

The pandemic was among the largest domestic response activations of the Illinois National Guard in history. Soldiers and airmen were stationed at 630 vaccination sites to provide nearly 1.87 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.  

Neely, who lives in Springfield, said he was honored to receive the medal, but credits the other members of the department.

“This medal has my name on it, but it is really the Soldiers, Airmen and civilian employees of the Illinois National Guard and the Illinois Department of Military Affairs who earned it,” Neely said. “The COVID-19 response was an example of what this state can accomplish working together. The cooperation and unity of effort from FEMA, IEMA, IDPH, local health departments, first responders, municipalities, counties, community agencies and many businesses saved countless lives.