CAMP TAJI, Iraq - More than 3,000 Soldiers deployed to Iraq with a Fort Riley, Kan., aviation brigade are one step closer to home this week after receiving their end of tour awards in several ceremonies across the country.

Soldiers with the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division received the awards in recognition of their service during the brigade's year-long deployment. The ceremonies are a significant mile-marker toward the unit's return to Fort Riley this spring.

But for Soldiers like Spc. Colins Oakley, the ceremonies were more than a formality.

"Not everyone wants to do what we do," he said. "I think we're here for a good cause, and it's nice to get pinned, to get the recognition from our commands."

Oakley received an Army Achievement Medal, which is awarded for meritorious service. It is his first award and his first tour to Iraq.

"It will be good to go back home with a medal on my chest, to go back period," said Oakley.

First Sgt. Ben Parker is not a stranger to award ceremonies. The senior enlisted Soldier for the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment's headquarters company, Parker is serving his fourth deployment.

"This is the best tour I've been on," he said. "We've accomplished a lot this time, supporting the guys on the ground, the guys flying outside the wire."

Parker was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, which is presented for outstanding meritorious achievement. It was rewarding his young troops, however, that Parker enjoyed most, he said.

"It's always a good time to give Soldiers awards," said Parker. "For a lot of them it's their first award. Lots of smiling faces, lots of Soldiers ready to go home."

Col. Frank Muth, the brigade's commander, addressed a group of awardees after one ceremony.

"Your country called upon you to serve in a time of war and you answered," said Muth.

"Look at that award on your chest, look at that patch on your shoulder," he said. "Be proud that you served in Iraq with the oldest, most historic division in the U.S. Army."

The brigade is scheduled to be replaced by the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16