It's an award that has been given to such distinguished leaders as retired Gen. Colin Powell, former Senator Bob Dole, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, and retired Gen. Hugh Shelton. Since 1979, George Washington Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army has been awarding their Commander-in-Chief Award to a deserving leader who makes a great contribution to America.

This year, for the first time ever, board members of the chapter selected not an individual, but a unit of Soldiers. The 2006 recipient of the Commander-in-Chief Award is the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).

The Old Guard is the Army's premier ceremonial unit. Soldiers in the Old Guard render final honors in funeral services in Arlington National Cemetery. They also represent the Army in ceremonies and special events throughout the National Capital Region. Along with their ceremonial duties, they remain battle-ready and deployable, with one company in the unit preparing to deploy to the Horn of Africa in March.

The reason the Old Guard received the award is clear, said Karen Lowe, chapter executive vice president. The Soldiers are worthy of the award because of their commitment to honoring their fallen comrades, and the inspiring way they represent the Army to the world, she said.

Gen. Richard Cody, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, presented the award to Old Guard commander Col. Bob Pricone at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington Jan. 25.

''I want you to know how very proud all of our senior leaders are of every Soldier of the Old Guard," Cody said. ''You make America proud; you make your Army proud."

Upon receiving the award, Pricone thanked the chapter for the recognition and for the support association provides for the unit. ''You've recognized not only the Soldiers that are in the Old Guard today, but also the Soldiers who have served in the Old Guard in the past," he said.

Lt. Col. Doug DeLancey, commander of 1st Battalion, 3rd Infantry, remarked on the affiliation the Old Guard shares with the chapter. ''Our relationship with the George Washington Chapter has been terrific, and I know it will continue into the future for many years to come," he said. ''AUSA represents all of us by advocating the critical function the Army plays in defense of our great republic."

Lowe agreed that the link between the chapter and the Old Guard is special. ''Of all the Army presence in the Military District of Washington, we are extremely close to the Old Guard. We adopted the Old Guard as our primary unit to work with," she said.

The decision to present the award was easy to make, said Lowe.

Every year board members meet to nominate their choice for a recipient for the award. Chapter president Edward Dauksz made the nomination.

''We typically vote," Lowe said. ''But in this case we unanimously agreed it was going to be the Old Guard."

''The Old Guard Soldiers are elite," said Dauksz. ''They represent the best of the Army, the best of America. They deserve recognition for all they do."

The recognition was welcomed by Soldiers in the unit. ''Getting an award always boosts morale," said Pfc. Devin Hogan, a member of the 3rd Platoon firing party in Company B. ''It tells you you're doing your job, and you're doing it well."

''It can be an extremely stressful job," said Spc. Eric Debelak of the Company B training room. ''Getting thanks and recognition makes our day."

Considering the names of former recipients of the award, Soldiers from the unit have been placed in a distinguished group. It's a group the Soldiers have earned the right to associate themselves with, said Regimental Command Sgt. Major Craig Roberson.

''Many people see what they do and think it's easy because it's flawless. It's not. It's a lot of hard work," he said. ''We have a group of outstanding Soldiers here in the Old Guard. I'm proud of our Soldiers. They work so hard, and do such a great job."

Their efforts do not go unnoticed by the Army's senior leaders, Cody said. ''You only have to look at these Soldiers of the Old Guard to know that the American Army will always remain strong, and our enemies had better fear us," he said.

''On behalf of the leadership, I want to say it's a great honor for me to be able to participate in this award. It's well deserved by each and every Soldier. You represent the very best of America," Cody said.