KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Lieutenant General Mark A. Milley, commanding officer of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, visited Troopers and leaders of Combined Task Force Dragoon Oct. 10, 2013, at Kandahar Airfield and Forward Operating Base Zangabad, Afghanistan.

During his visit, Milley awarded a number of Troopers and presented commanders coins for excellence for their service and bravery while assigned to Regional Command South in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Awardees received decorations including Combat Infantryman, Combat Action and Combat Medical Badges. A Purple Heart and two Army Commendation Medals were also among the awards presented.

"These awards, although they are all just pieces of metal, have real meaning," Milley said, speaking to the Troopers he had just awarded. "Its all about recognizing danger and sacrifice. My hat is off to you for earning these awards."

After the ceremonies, Milley addressed those in attendance about various aspects of their service in the country. The advancements the people of Afghanistan have made over the years and their part in finalizing U.S. forces' endeavors in the country became a topic of discussion. Milley also spoke about the transition of the Troopers out of the country by the end of 2014.

"This country has made a lot of strides in 10 to 12 years," said Milley. "They have gone from zero in the army and police 12 years ago to today (having thousands). That is a major, significant step forward and because those conditions have changed, our country has decided we are going to draw down. We are going to exit this country in good order and discipline."

Milley ended his visit with a meeting with RC South leadership, but not before letting the Troopers know how much of a good job they are doing assisting Afghan National Security Forces to liberate the country of hostile forces. He reminded them to remain vigilant and to finish the mission strong.

"You're in the midst of transferring responsibility for the security of this country to the Afghan Security Forces," said Milley. "They are capable, they are big enough, they are competent enough and they are good enough. Keep doing what you are doing and keep your head in the game. It is a dangerous place. I know you all know that and don't ever forget it. You are American Soldiers. You are America's finest and you are doing a great job."