FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Artillerymen of 4th Battalion, 25th Artillery Regiment, are used to working hard. The sweat from their brows has christened many rounds as they are loaded into howitzers that will hurl them towards the enemy.
But during the battalion's most recent deployment to Afghanistan, many artillerymen found themselves leaving their big guns in favor of rifles and their forward operating bases for much smaller combat outposts. The added responsibility, however, did not ease their regular workload.
They still had teams on call to fire artillery rounds at the enemy, in support of their fellow troops patrolling the mountains.
For their efforts, they were awarded the Maj. Gen. Henry A. Knox Award. Named for the first chief of field artillery, the award is presented to a single artillery battery every year.
Although the award is not given solely for combat, B Battery earned it while serving in Afghanistan for nearly all of 2009.
"We started out providing field artillery support from three separate bases," said Capt. Andrew Johnston, B Battery commander.
"Our primary mission was to provide fire support for maneuver units," said Staff Sgt. Klint Griffith, B Battery Fire Direction Control section chief.
Taking on the additional tasks didn't come as a complete surprise.
"The battery trained up to do a maneuver mission," Johnston said. "We did a rotation (at Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La.) in a maneuver mindset."
Even with the additional training, the move from operating a large, mostly stationary gun, to climbing mountains and directly interacting with local residents was a huge change.
"It was a big change, but they were prepared for it," said 1st Lt. Matthew Hopchak, 2nd Platoon, platoon leader. "It's pretty rare that we're doing just artillery."
"Initially, guys were pulled back on our heels, but in the end we went out and we executed," Johnston said.
If the change in mission was a shock, finding out they had won an award for their great efforts was an even bigger one.
"I was kind of surprised when I found out. I definitely thought the effort was there. I never thought we didn't deserve it. But we were more concerned about doing the mission than the recognition," Johnston said.
The battery's senior leaders were not the only ones who felt the effects of the recognition.
"They know that they did a good job over there. You can tell in their faces that they appreciate the recognition for taking on the extra mission and the additional workload," Hopchak said.
"I think guys are carrying themselves a little bit higher and are proud of the recognition. It's something to be very proud of," Johnston said. "It's not so much a leadership award as it is a Soldier's award. It's not an individual award. It's based off of teamwork."
"I think it means a lot to the Soldiers, because they are the ones out there making it happen," Griffith said.
Although the acknowledgment was a welcome surprise, it changes very little about the way Soldiers of B Battery go about their day.
"It's nice to take a break and pat your back, but then it's right back to work," Johnston said.
"Personally, I think our battery has always been the best in the Army. It just didn't come with an award or a title," Griffith said.