By Nondice Powell, Fort Campbell Courier StaffMarch 17, 2009
Seven Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were presented awards by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., March 16.
"I will tell you the honor is mine to pin those medals on those heroes," said Casey.
"That lieutenant, Eslinger, he was walking on a patrol in the city of Samarra when the enemy threw a grenade over the wall right in the middle of his platoon. He knew people would be killed if he didn't do something. He jumped on the grenade and it didn't go off so he reached and grabbed it and threw it back over the wall and it went off. What kind of courage does that take' So it was an honor for me to pin that medal."
First Lieutenant Nicholas Eslinger, a platoon leader from 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, received the Silver Star for his actions. He was one of four from the 1st Brigade Combat Team who received a Silver Star in the ceremony presided over by Army's Chief of Staff.
"I am a firm believer that acts of heroism occur every day," said Eslinger. "I will say that it is a complete honor to receive this award. I accept it on behalf of my platoon that was on the ground with me that night and the great leadership that I have in my battalion."
Eslinger was the only one of the seven receiving an award who was not a noncommissioned officer. Casey and Eslinger both felt this has a lot to say about the non-commission officer corps especially during the "Year of the NCO."
"Sixty percent of our awards for valor go to noncommissioned officers and yet they represent less than forty present of our total force," said Casey. "It's another great example of why they are the best in the world at what they do. They are the glue that is holding the Army together."
"They are the heart and soul of the Army," said Eslinger. "I can't say enough about the professionalism that they have and how honorable it is to work beside them. I think it's a great thing we have a year devoted to the noncommissioned officer. They absolutely deserve it; they deserve a decade."
Among the noncommissioned officers honored at the ceremony was Staff Sgt. Mark Quigley, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment. He explained how he led a team to retrieve wounded personnel after they were ambushed while on a patrol in Iraq looking for insurgents. Eslinger quickly described Quigley as modest when he didn't really have much to say about his actions the night which he earned a Silver Star.
"It's an honor," said Quigley. "It means you're a hero. That's the easiest way to put it. I'm honored to receive it."
Both Soldiers spoke for themselves and the others saying it was an honor to have Casey pin their awards.
"It means the world for someone like that to take the time out of their day and come and visit us," said Quigley. "We should all be proud of that."
"It's unbelievable," said Eslinger. "I don't have words. He's the highest ranking officer in the entire Army. For him to take the time out of his day when I'm sure he has a lot more important things to be doing. It just means the world not only to me but to all the other gentlemen who received their awards."
Six of the seven Soldiers presented awards were from the 1st Brigade Combat Team.
"It says a lot about the unit," said Eslinger. "The camaraderie we all share and develop over time really makes for an outstanding unit with good leaders who take care of their Soldiers."
Eslinger, Quigley, Sgt. Brendan Quinn and Sgt. Raphael Collins received Silver Stars; Sgt. Barrett Kerr and Sgt. Stephen Noble received Soldiers Medals; and Staff Sgt. Ikaika Jaber was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" Device.