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September 16, 2002

Governor Ryan Urges Support for Accused Air Guard Pilots

SPRINGFIELD-- Gov. George H. Ryan urged support for the legal defense fund for the Illinois military pilots charged by the U.S. Air Force in connection with the fatal "friendly fire" bombing of Canadian troops on a training exercise in Afghanistan.

Four Canadian soldiers were killed during the tragic incident. Charged in connection last week were: Major Harry Schmidt, of Sherman, Ill., a former instructor at the U.S. Navy's Top Gun and the U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons schools; and Major William Umbach, a 20-year veteran of the Air Force and Air National Guard and a Petersburg, Ill., resident.

Today Gov. Ryan, Major General David Harris, the Illinois National Guard Adjutant General, and staff were briefed by the U.S. Air Force Deputy Judge Advocate General about the U.S. Code of Military Justice process that the two pilots now face.

"The death of allied soldiers is tragic and the people of Illinois grieve with the families of the heroic Canadian fighting men," Gov. Ryan said. "At the same time, I want to be sure that these two Illinois military men, now on federal active duty, get the best defense possible.”

Although military lawyers are provided to the officers, in order to get the best defense they are seeking to retain private attorneys to join their legal team.

"I urge Illinois residents to support the legal defense fund being established to help these two pilots. They served their country in the war against terrorism. This tragedy took place in difficult conditions. In the interest of justice and fairness, Maj. Schmidt and Maj. Umbach deserve the best legal counsel possible to mount their defense against these serious charges," Gov. Ryan said.

Contributions can be made to the "Pilot's Defense Fund," VFW Post #10302, 2349 Stockyard Road, Springfield, IL 62702.


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