ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Maj. Gen. Kevin O'Connell, commanding general, U.S. Army Sustainment Command, honored two retiring Soldiers stationed at Rock Island Arsenal during RIA's second quarterly Award, Retreat and Retirement Ceremony, here, March 9.

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Blackburn, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear non-commissioned officer, ASC, retired with 26 years of service.

Blackburn, a 45-year-old Michigan native, joined the Army in 1989. He deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He is also a member of the Order of the Dragon, an elite group of Soldiers within the Chemical Corps who are recognized for their moral integrity and their outstanding professional competence.

Blackburn said he is looking forward to retirement.

"I am looking forward to being able to be me -- truly," he said. "You decide when you come into the military that you will allow people to tell you what you can and you can't do, but now I will be able to make decisions on my own."

Blackburn's wife, Jessica, echoed his sentiment, saying she looks forward to his increased independence.

"Just him being able to be him, and not having to worry about what is next, if he's going to be deployed or if he'll have to move again," she said. "He can do what he wants to do."

Blackburn said he will miss the camaraderie of being in the Army.

"Just everybody being together and supporting each other," he said.

A former drill instructor at the U.S. Army Chemical School Officer Training Department, Blackburn said he hopes to become a Junior ROTC instructor at a school.

He also said he hopes to finally complete his bachelor's degree in business management and administration.

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Robert Fitts, Blackburn's 85-year-old neighbor and a Korean War veteran, attended the ceremony with his wife. He said he felt compelled to attend because he believes he and Blackburn have mutual respect and friendship.

"I respect him as an individual, and we just really clicked," said Fitts, who is also the director for the regional Korean War Veterans Association. "Once you've been in the service -- I don't care where you served or where you are from -- you are like a brother. "

Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Jones, training non-commissioned officer, First U.S. Army, retired with 15 years of service. He joined the Army in 2001 as an infantryman. He was deployed three times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and once in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Jones, a native of Ohio, served in many leadership positions throughout his career including team leader, squad leader, section sergeant, weapons squad leader, senior instructor, platoon sergeant, company first sergeant and human resources non-commissioned officer.

O'Connell served as the officiating officer for the event in his role as senior mission commander of RIA.

"This is such an important event… we want to celebrate your successful and wonderful careers," he said to the retirees.

O'Connell said Soldiers go into the Army for four main reasons: to learn a trade, to gain an education, to have adventure, and to make a living. But, he said, everyone also joins to give service to the nation -- to be a part of something bigger than themselves

"You just can't find a nobler profession," he said. "We are proud that you two NCOs chose that path less traveled."

Other island leaders also attended, including Melanie Johnson, executive director, U.S. Army Contracting Command-Rock Island; Michael Hutchinson, deputy to the commander, ASC; Col. Elmer Speights, RIA garrison commander; and Dale Kuehl, chief of staff, First Army. John Thodos, mayor of East Moline, also attended the event.

First Army hosted the event, providing the color guard, awards coordination and narrator. Chaplin (Lt. Col.) Steven Moser gave the invocation.