MILFORD - The New Hampshire National Guard's Charlie Company on Saturday received the Valorous Unit Award for extraordinary service during its 2010-11 deployment in Afghanistan.
Despite the impending snowstorm, more than 100 friends, family members and officials - including Gov. Maggie Hassan, U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster - were on hand as members of Charlie Company, 3-172nd Mountain Infantry Regiment, received the award for their actions while on combat missions in Afghanistan.
Hassan and Maj. Gen. William N. Reddel presented the award to the unit. Hassan expressed her thanks for the dedication and heroism of the soldiers and said she was honored to be on hand to present the award one day after celebrating the 377th birthday of the New Hampshire National Guard.
"Your accomplishments in Afghanistan built on this tradition and reflect the very best of New Hampshire's rich history of service," said Hassan. "We have profound respect and gratitude for you."
Under the leadership of Capt. Daniel Newman and 1st Sgt. Glen Drewniak, Charlie Company participated in the first air assault mission launched by the 3rd Battalion and the New Hampshire National Guard and according to Ayotte participated in four more air assaults during their deployment.
Ayotte said the soldiers encountered 110 improvised explosive devices, conducted five air assaults and participated in 10 named operations.
Through their bravery, Charlie Company helped make sure that Afghanistan can't become "a launching pad again for terrorists" like those who perpetrated the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
The soldiers of Charlie Company also conducted more than 700 patrols, both on foot and in vehicles, killed or captured 21 enemy combatants, offered medical treatment to both friends and enemies on the ground, and confiscated large caches of enemy weapons, including assault rifles, mines and rocket-propelled grenades. There were more than 140 soldiers serving with Charlie Company during the deployment, though some have moved on since returning home, said Reddel.
"This ceremony is for all those warriors who were part of this company when they deployed," he said.
Reddell spoke of the night in 2010 when more than 1,000 people gathered in the Milford Middle School to say so long to Charlie Company as members prepared to leave for Afghanistan. That night, Reddel said, Newman told his warriors that he wouldn't ask them to do anything he wouldn't do and explained that the members of Charlie Company represented a true cross-section of people in New Hampshire.
"Thank you, Dan, for bringing them home," Reddel said.
During the deployment, members of Charlie Company earned 14 Bronze Stars, five Purple Hearts, five Commendation medals with Combat Distinguishing Valor Devices, 92 Combat Infantryman badges, 40 Combat Action badges and four Combat Medical badges.
Shaheen commended the soldiers for their efforts to support those in Afghanistan who were fighting to build a democracy and thanked them for making the sacrifice of leaving their country to help people on the other side of the world.
"You're the reason that we live in a free country, that we can celebrate the joys of this holiday season, that we can enjoy the opportunities that exist in America," Shaheen said.
"This is what true heroism looks like. It keeps us safe and free," said Kuster. "I hope none of us ever takes that for granted."
While Charlie Company was the first New Hampshire National Guard unit to receive the Valorous Unit Award, 52 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 197th Field Artillery Unit also earned the award following their deployment in 2004-05 during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. During that deployment, more than 20 2nd Battalion soldiers earned Purple Hearts, including Spc. Alan Burgess of Landaff, a gunner who was killed during a combat patrol in Mosul on Oct. 15, 2004.