National Guard March_2014 : Page 28

136TH GENERAL CONFERENCE & EXHIBITION PREVIEW A bevy of unique sights, sounds and flavors await as the conference returns to the renowned Windy City BY REBECCA AUTREY THERE’S A CRUCIAL SCENE in the timeless classic The e Blues s Brothers in n which h the e ragged-looking g pair r climb into a car wearing g their signature shades and fedoras. After slamming g the doors, Elwood, played by y Dan Aykroyd, looks at t Jake, played by y the late John Belushi, and utters what is now w one of f the most recognized movie lines about the big g city y on Lake Michigan: “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got t a full tank k of f gas, half f a pack k of f cigarettes, it’s dark k and d we’re wearing g sunglasses.” “Hit t it,” says Jake, and off ff to the Windy y City y they y go. Their journey y ends in a memorable car chase, with the two trying g to elude the authorities, including g Na-tional Guard troops. DREAMSTIME LIVING LARGE Chicago is famous for its skyline on the shores of Lake Michigan and plenty of uniquely American food and drink, including its world-famous deep-dish pizza. 28 2 8 | NAT NA N AT A T IO ION ON O N AL A L G GU U AR A R ARD RD D M MA A R RCH C H 20 CH 2 0 1 14 4 W WWW WW WW W W . N NG NGA GA G A US U S . ORG O RG OR R G


Rebecca Autrey


A bevy of unique sights, sounds and flavors await as the conference returns to the renowned Windy City

THERE’S A CRUCIAL SCENE in the timeless classic The Blues Brothers in which the ragged-looking pair climb into a car wearing their signature shades and fedoras.

After slamming the doors, Elwood, played by Dan Aykroyd, looks at Jake, played by the late John Belushi, and utters what is now one of the most recognized movie lines about the big city on Lake Michigan: “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

“Hit it,” says Jake, and off to the Windy City they go.

Their journey ends in a memorable car chase, with the two trying to elude the authorities, including National Guard troops.

This summer, thousands of Guardsmen will be back in the city, but not as characters trying to corral a famous comedic duo. They will be attendees of the 136th General Conference & Exhibition, Aug. 22 to 25.

This will be the fourth time the city has hosted the NGAUS conference. The association also gathered there in 1898, 1913 and 1933.

The National Guard Association of Illinois has been planning the conference for more than three years. NGAI officials say visitors will receive a large dose of the city’s unique flavor while they’re in town.

“The entire approach was to give you a complete Chicago experience," says retired Col. James Smith the conference co-chair.

The City
Chicago sits on the southwestern shore of Lake Michingan, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. The location is hard to beat, and it’s one reason why people are so drawn to the city.

That is as true today as it was more than 240 years ago when trader jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a free African-American man thought to be from Haiti, settled there in the late 1770s. He made his home where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan, and is considered the city’s first permanent resident.

In the 1790s, the federal government arrived and built Fort Dearborn, which stood on what’s now the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. Native Americans burned down the installation in 1812, but it was rebuilt before it was leveled for good in the middle of the century.

Chicago continued to grow as the country expanded westward, and the city was officially incorporated in 1837. Wanting to open more possibilities for trade, the city opened the Illinois & Michigan Canal in 1848. For the first time, the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico were connected by an inland waterway.

Rapid expansion, however, did not come without growing pains. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 consumed most of the city’s wooden infrastructure. But to no one’s surprise, Chicago came back—and came back big.

Today the city is home to almost 3 million people and welcomes 40 million visitors annually. It’s a premier destination for museum lovers, theatre goers, beach bums, bicyclists, sports fans and especially those who enjoy domestic food and beverages.

It’s a big city with a laid-back attitude. And, it’s the perfect place to host the 136th General Conference & Exhibition.

The Conference
Chicago’s location in the middle of the country provides several options for traveling to the conference. Those who live in the Midwest can take advantage of the region’s extensive rail network leading to downtown Chicago’s Union Station. Driving is another option, but parking in the city can be expensive.

Many attendees will arrive by air at one of Chicago’s two international airports, O’Hare (code: ORD) or Midway (MDW). NGAI is still finalizing plans for ground transportation and details will be announced as they are available.

Public transportation is always an option for those on a tight budget. Chicago Transit Authority trains run from both airports to within a few blocks of the official conference hotels. Estimated cost runs from $2.25 to around $5.

All four conference hotels are located on the city’s famed Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue. The Hyatt Regency Chicago serves as the headquarters hotel (Registration, Travel, Hotel and Exhibit Information, page 31).

Conference meetings and the trade show will be held at McCormick Place, the nation’s largest convention center. The facility consists of four buildings totaling 2.6 million square feet, including 1.2 million square feet of space on the same level. NGAUS will take over the West building.

Charter buses will take attendees between the hotels and McCormick Place. For a large portion of the trip, they will travel on a dedicated roadway.

“We’re the only place in the country with something like that,” says Keith Murphy, the director of sales at Mc- Cormick Place. He estimates the trip from the convention center to the hotels will take about eight minutes.

Conference events kick off on the links. The sponsor golf tournament is set for Aug. 21 at Harborside International Golf Center. The NGAUS member golf tournament is scheduled for the same course the next day.

Other activities taking place Aug. 22 include the Company Grade/Warrant Officer mixer at Dave and Buster’s and the Adjutants General and Sponsors Reception. The TAG reception will be held at Shedd Aquarium, which is the largest indoor aquarium in the world.

Events begin early Aug. 23 with the annual 5k Fun Run along Lake Shore Drive. Participants will be handsomely rewarded for the early wake-up call with a view of the city on one side of the route and the beach on the other.

The conference continues later that morning at McCormick Place with the opening of the trade show and the First Business Session. Smith says the opening ceremony will give attendees a feel for what Chicago is all about.

The Governor’s Reception will wrap up the first day’s activities. It will be held at the Field Museum, a world class facility that The New York Times recently called “one of the nation’s most important natural history museums.”

Official conference events conclude Aug. 25 with the States Dinner, which will be held in the Skyline Ballroom at McCormick Place. Formal attire is required.

Additional details regarding the conference schedule will be posted as they’re finalized at

Beyond NGAUS
Smith encourages attendees to come early and stay late. “This time of year is perfect for visiting Chicago,” he says.

“The weather is great and the city is a-buzz.”

There is no shortage of things to do for visitors who take advantage of discounted hotel rates, which run from Aug. 19 through Aug. 26 at most conference hotels. Discounted rates at the Sheraton Chicago end Aug. 25.

And attendees don’t have to stray far to see some of what Chicago has to offer. Right outside hotel front doors is the Magnificent Mile, famous for shopping and restaurants.

Only a little further is Millennium Park, a bustling gathering place in the summer months. The park is home to Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” sculpture, otherwise known as “the Bean,” a 110-ton steel piece that produces crystal-clear reflections of the city skyline and clouds.

Another option? Head to the beach. The city boasts miles of beaches along Lake Michigan, some near downtown. Each beach has something different to offer. The Oak Street Beach is well known for its fantastic view of the city.

Chicago also has excellent museums, two of which—the Shedd and the Field—will be highlighted during conference events. The Art Institute of Chicago is also considered a must see. The museum holds a collection of approximately 300,000 works and was voted the city’s No. 1 museum on Trip Advisor.

The Museum of Science and Industry is another option for museum lovers. Exhibits include a World War II German U-boat, the only one of its kind in the United States.

Also worth a look is the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. It features thousands of rare titles and artifacts with a focus on the citizen- soldier. The facility was founded by retired Illinois Army Guard Col. J.N. Pritizker.

You can also catch a game at one of the most famous ballparks in the country. The Cubs will be hosting the San Francisco Giants (Aug. 19- 21) and Baltimore Orioles (Aug. 22-24) at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field during the conference.

And no trip to Chicago is complete without sampling some local fare. Smith warns, “Leave healthy at home and come to Chicago and just eat.”

Chicago-style hot dogs are a city staple. Try one at Portillo’s or Hot Doug’s. Italian beef sandwiches dipped in juice are another musthave. Both Al’s Beef in Little Italy and Mr. Beef on Orleans are popular.

And then there’s the most iconic Chicago food of all, the deep-dish pizza. Just don’t ask Smith to recommend one place to go to sample one. “The way you get into a fight in Chicago is recommend a deep-dish pizza place,” he says.

But the city’s official tourism company, Choose Chicago, is willing to take on the task. It recommends The Original Gino’s of East Chicago or Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria.

There’s more. Chicago is home to a growing craft-beer scene, great theatre and world renown comedy. The list could go on. It’s a city full of things to do, see and eat. So leave enough time to enjoy it all.

REBECCA AUTREY may be contacted at 202-408-5892 or at


NGAUS members should register through state or territory associations. Exhibitors and industry representatives must register at www.ngausregistration. org. The registration is $165 and covers the business sessions, conference breaks, the exhibition, the Governor’s Reception, Hospitality Night and the States Dinner. Some other events, like the Fun Run and golf tournaments, are extra.

Attendees should use O’Hare International Airport (ORD) or Midway International Airport (MDW). You can find discount codes for United, American and Delta airlines at www.

Chicago Transit Authority trains run from both airports to within a couple blocks of the conference hotels. For more information on the CTA, visit Taxis are another option, but fares run as high as $45. NGAI is still finalizing additional plans for ground transportation, and details will be announced as they become available.

Hyatt Regency Chicago (official headquarters)

Intercontinental Chicago

Marriott Chicago Downtown

Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers

State/territory hotel assignments and links to hotel websites are available at

Exhibitors should contact Randy Williams via email at or by phone at 202-744- 6266. A prospectus and a map of the exhibit floor with current booth assignments are available at

Read the full article at

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