FORT LEWIS, Wash. - The Army Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Richard A. Cody, saved one of his favorite things until the end of the first day of his visit to Fort Lewis June 11. Cody, who has announced his retirement, came to the installation to give the keynote remarks at the Army birthday ball the following evening.

The vice chief talked to many I Corps Soldiers last week, often interrupting his itinerary to chat with an individual or group. He told the assembled members of the 571st Military Police Company, that he relished the opportunity to present awards to 10 of its Soldiers, among his last official tasks before leaving the Army.

Cody presented the Bronze Star Medal with valor device to Staff Sgt. Dwight Cross for leading his 12-Soldier contingent through more than five hours of combat against insurgents who had overrun an Iraqi police station in the Buhritz neighborhood of Baqubah in December 2007. He continued an escort mission, leading his Soldiers and their four-vehicle convoy through an ambush, pushing an officer out of harm's way and suffering a bullet wound to his leg.

The 11-year Army veteran had spent his first eight years as a mortarman before transferring to the MP Corps. As the mission developed, he put his infantry experience to good use.

"It was straight infantry stuff," Cross said. "We were close enough to be using grenades, we fired a couple AT4s (rockets). It was pretty hairy."

Cross also received a Purple Heart and was re-enlisted by the vice chief in front of his company. The NCO said he was impressed.

"This is pretty neat," he said. "I've never been presented an award by a general."

Cody also swore Cross to his re-enlistment oath after the award ceremony and jokingly asked him how Cross had liked serving under him at Fort Campbell, Ky. The former helicopter pilot commanded the 101st Airborne Division while Cross served there in the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment.

"We were at Campbell together," Cody said. "(Staff) Sgt. Cross was with the Rakkasans. How was I as your division commander'"

He didn't wait for a response. That Cross had decided to re-enlist, Cody told the MPs, reflected well on the entire company.

"He is re-enlisting for all of you, because of all of you," he said. "I'm proud of you all."

Cross leaves at the end of the month to report to Fort Leonard Wood to continue his career as an instructor at the MP School.

Cody presented awards to nine other Soldiers: Sgt. Christopher Dowling, Army Commendation Medal with V-device; Sgt. Bryan Lynch, ARCOM with V-device; Sgt. Andrew McMillan, ARCOM with V-device; Staff Sgt. Roy Parker, Bronze Star Medal; Sgt. 1st Class Spencer Frost, Bronze Star Medal; 1st Lt. Audrey Quinby, Bronze Star Medal; Sgt. Ryan Payne, Purple Heart; Spc. John Bowles, Purple Heart; and Spc. Holly Keyes, Combat Action Badge.

Three of Cross' Soldiers received medals with V-devices for the same mission: Dowling exposed himself to insurgent fire to help clear a malfunction in the .50 caliber machine gun, then ran 25 meters across an open area to retrieve a pair of AT4s; Lynch coordinated an air weapons team support and helped drag Cross to safety after he was wounded; and McMillan coordinated rear security to allow evacuation,

Three others received Bronze Star Medals for excelling during their tours of duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom: Frost, a platoon sergeant, trained the staffs of six Iraqi police station who conducted more than 800 missions; Parker trained more than 300 Iraqi police officers; and Quinby served as police transition team leader at district level, making major improvements in route security.

Payne and Bowles received Purple Hearts for injuries suffered in improvised explosive device attacks in November and April 2007 respectively. Keyes received a Combat Action Badge for helping her squad fight its way out of an IED-triggered ambush in June 2007, laying down suppressive fire to cover the Soldiers' escape.

Cody praised the Soldiers for their commitment to the current war on terrorism, which he pointed out was already the longest war ever fought by an all-volunteer Army in U.S. history.

Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis' "Northwest Guardian"