I love the small-world character of Downers Grove. This is one of my favorite examples:
Late last year I was writing some articles about the various activities honoring Veteran’s Day. In talking with veterans at the Alexander Bradley Burns American Legion Post 80, I kept hearing about Major Cech of the U.S. Army who had spoken at several local events. I was interested to learn that the major was a “she” and the commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Downers Grove.
Fast forward several hours later to when I was working on one of the Veterans Day articles while simultaneously helping to sign volunteers into a Diveheart event. As a young woman approached my table I said, “I’m sorry Nancy, I don’t think I know your last name.” I was stunned to hear her respond “Cech.”
I’m of a generation or perhaps just of a mindset, that would assume that an Army major would in all probability be a middle-aged, career military guy; or with a wild stretch of my imagination, a middle-aged, no-nonsense, buttoned-up woman. None of these describe Cech.
The young woman, who is warm, bright, funny and energetic, has been in the Army for 10 years. She has trained in various bases throughout the U.S., and has been deployed overseas twice; once in Mosul, Iraq, and the second time in Bagdad.
Cech, who grew up in California, said she always knew she wanted to be in the military. She has three brothers who enlisted after high school, but she determined that she wanted to go to college first. Cech attended University of San Diego where she majored in psychology and history and participated in ROTC.
Upon graduation, she was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and has since moved steadily up the ranks. Cech is now working towards her masters degree in homeland security as she prepares for her next move with the Army, which will be to a base in Korea late this summer.
The small-world component of Cech’s presence in Downers Grove takes a turn for the poignant. Her grandfather, Joseph Cech, lived in the western suburbs, settling in Downers Grove almost 50 years ago.
“He was a piano teacher here for more than 70 years. He was 96 when he died last fall,” Cech said. Her parents both grew up in the area and remained here until the blizzard of 1967, after which they moved to California. While growing up, Cech returned to Downers Grove with her parents and brothers to visit her grandparents and other relatives who remained in the area.
While she was planning her last station change from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, Cech was given a list of jobs and locations that would be opening. ”We give them our top 10 choices and bottom five, and they get to pick, based off of experience, qualifications and job progressions,” she said.
Downers Grove made her top 10 list, largely because she had family here and recognized that her grandfather was getting old. It was ultimately the station assigned to her. “I got to spend some time with him and my cousins,” Cech said.
“My grandfather was at my change of command ceremony in 2009. He was still teaching piano. He still had students and was planning his spring recital. He was actively teaching. My step-grandmother made him take three days a week off. He was still sharp and most people didn’t realize that he was 96,” she said.
The mission of the commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Station is to recruit qualified young men and women to join the Army, Cech said. She is in charge of a company of 48 soldiers in locations throughout the western suburbs, with the headquarters in Downers Grove. “We do compete with other branches of the Armed Services," she said. "They want the same kind of people we want.”
Cech said it’s been gratifying to see the results of her company’s recruitment efforts. “It’s been an experience watching some of these young kids join the Army and get a second chance to do something with their lives; to do something better with them.
"It’s rewarding to see that. They write letters to us about how basic training is going and sometimes will come back on a hometown recruiting program. They’ll sometimes come back and talk to their high school counselors. You can see a change in the kids,” she said. “One kid almost didn’t graduate. We sat and babysat with him. One of the soldiers made sure that he was going to classes and doing his homework. He graduated and went off into the Army. Even if they change their minds after graduation, we push them to graduate regardless. It’s important.”
Cech said being in the Army has been a great experience for her. “I always knew that I wanted to serve my country," she said. "A lot of people take things for granted. I appreciate what I have and want to give a little bit.”