BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The 277th Aviation Support Battalion's Task Force Freedom was recognized by the U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center as the "Top Army Aviation Battalion" and "Top Battalion in the Combat Service Support" category.

News of the recognition surprised leaders and shocked some Soldiers, especially since the unit has only existed less than two years. The unit formed June 22, 2005, and deployed to Afghanistan seven months later.

"I was very pleasantly surprised and extremely proud," said Army Lt. Col. Dean Heitkamp, 277th Aviation Support Battalion commander. "It reinforced the sentiments I had already developed for this great battalion several months ago. The award means that our great Soldiers have been formally recognized for all their hard work, dedication and sacrifices."

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Antoinette Aila, the battalion's senior enlisted advisor, said the news of the honor came as a bit of a shock to the troops.

"To be recognized for all we have done and accomplished in such a short time before and during deployment is quite an achievement," she said.

Heitkamp said the focus of the Army competition was on unit excellence in accomplishing its mission essential task list.

Army evaluators also looked at leadership, training, maintenance, and safety, as well as the innovative use of existing management tools and resources.

During the 277th's current deployment in support of the Operation Enduring Freedom, the unit proved it is more than just a maintenance unit by excelling in each of the categories.

Heitkamp explained that during its OEF deployment, his unit has provided an array of support services not only for the aviation brigade, but for Combined Joint Task Force-76, as well.

"It is a lot more than just maintenance man-hours; it's about the whole spectrum of combat service support," he said. "We have been conducting split-based operations in the continental United States, Iraq and Kuwait, and from 12 Forward Operating Bases within Afghanistan to support the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and other forces."

Aside from keeping the brigade's aircraft flying with a maintenance and component repair program, the unit also provides logistics support and distribution management, medical support, ammunition and fuel support, ground maintenance and recovery, multi-class supply support, and combat logistics patrols. Additionally, the unit provides network and signal support to forces throughout Afghanistan.

"All of that helped enable the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade to fly over 55,000 hours in combat and contributed to the operational readiness of other ground forces in Combined Joint Task Force-76," Heitkamp said.