FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Members of the Fort Drum community gathered Feb. 17 in the Summit Room at Hays Hall as Puerto Rico Senator-at-Large Lucy Arce Ferrer presented Soldiers with the Freedom Award.

The government of Puerto Rico established the Freedom Award in 2005 as a way to recognize National Guard and Reserve Soldiers of Puerto Rican descent who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The senators and representatives got together and asked 'how can we recognize Soldiers in the war (on) terror'" Ferrer said.

Fort Drum recipients have the honor of being the first active-duty Soldiers to receive the Freedom Award.

"This is the first time we came to a base outside of Puerto Rico," Ferrer said. "These Soldiers are our ambassadors, not just to America but to the world."

Recipients are those who have served for a minimum of 180 consecutive days (or 90 days for medical field personnel), in support of the global war on terrorism, including Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Noble Eagle, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Balkan Zone or other related operations.

Others who qualify but do not meet the above criteria are Soldiers wounded by hostile fire or in the compliance of their mission in support of the described military contingencies. The award also may be presented to freed prisoners of war - Soldiers who have fallen by hostile fire when fulfilling their duty in the global war on terrorism.

Before the award ceremony, Ferrer met with Puerto Rican Soldiers and their Families at the Spiritual Fitness and Family Support Center. She gave Soldiers time to ask questions about problems that are unique to Puerto Rican troops serving on active duty. Soldiers asked questions ranging from the possibility of an active-duty station in Puerto Rico to teaching English in schools to make it easier to join the Army.

Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, spoke during the ceremony before awards were given.

"The Freedom Award that is being presented today is on behalf of the government of Puerto Rico in recognition of the service of Puerto Rican citizens," Terry said. "The Soldiers here being honored not only represent the United States Army - the very best of the Army, the 10th Mountain Division - but are representatives of remarkable Soldiers who serve in our ranks and hail from Puerto Rico, of which we have many.

"I'll tell you that you can connect really quickly with people, especially people who really care about Soldiers and Families," Terry added. "This senator truly cares about not only the Soldiers up here, the Soldiers from Puerto Rico, but all the Soldiers."

The Freedom Award is a round bronze medal the bears the coat of arms of the legislature, and on the back, the flags of Puerto Rico and the United States together with an eagle and a message that reads: "In honor of the defense of freedom."

Recipients are Maj. Gillberto Vazquez, Warrant Officer 1 Juan Jusino-Morales, Sgt. 1st Class Nelson Miranda-Mislan, Sgt. 1st Class Luis Rodriguez-Villalba, Staff Sgt. Christina Medina, Staff Sgt. Carlos Monllor-Munoz, Staff Sgt. Graciano Ortiz, Staff Sgt. Richard Roman San Tource, Staff Sgt. Roman Umpierre-Gonzalez, Sgt. David Agcosto, Sgt. Darlene Martinez, Pfc. Nastasha Bell and Pfc. Yamil Cedeno.

"I am very honored to receive something like this from the senator. I will have it on display at the front of my desk to let people know where I came from," said Ortiz.