KABUL, Afghanistan, April 21, 2011 -- New Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey presented awards to 13 Soldiers while visiting troops at NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, Camp Eggers, today.

Dempsey, the Army's 37th chief of staff, listened to troops and answered their questions at a "town hall" meeting during his first visit to Afghanistan. Then he surprised Soldiers by presenting them with medals for accomplishments impacting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Dempsey succeeded Gen. George W. Casey Jr. as the Army chief of staff April 11, 2011.

"This is my first deployment and the mission here is tough but we have a great team," said Spc. Lucas D. Prall, deployed from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. "I never expected in my career to ever receive a Joint Commendation Medal from the chief of staff. It was an honor to receive this award from General Dempsey."

"It's a great honor to come out here and support the mission of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan and NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and receive an award from the 37th Army chief of staff," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Darwin Barcus, who was awarded the Bronze Star.

After presenting awards, Dempsey thanked the awardees and more than 100 joint warfighters in attendance for their efforts in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and asked the troops to pass on his appreciation to their families.

"I admire the work of CSTC-A and NTM-A," said Dempsey. "What you've done is inspiring."

The NTM-A/CSTC-A joint and coalition warfighters - in coordination with NATO nations and partners, international organizations, donors and non-governmental organizations - supports the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as it generates and sustains the Afghan National Security Force, develops leaders, and establishes enduring institutional capacity to enable accountable Afghan-led security.

"As the chief of the U.S. Army he (Dempsey) views the Soldiers here as the most important thing going on the Army," said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, NTM-A commanding general at the event. "General Dempsey knows the men and women serving NTM-A are making an incredible difference and are making it possible for Afghanistan to stand up and be responsible for their own security."

At the town hall, Dempsey stressed the importance of planning for the future of the Army.

"Our goal is to visualize what the Army may be like in the year 2020 and build an organization that supports versatility," said Dempsey. "The Army has to have structure and stance, like a boxer - to be able to do whatever the nation needs it to do."

The new Army chief of staff also emphasized the professionalization of senior noncommissioned officers and commissioned officers, telling troops it's crucial to the Army and the United States.

"Our status as a nation can be equally defined by our economic power as by our military power," said Dempsey. "The Army exists to serve the nation and that's what makes us a profession - not a job or an occupation - and I hope you feel that. Leader development is job one. We have to continue to encourage education, because we can't have professionals without the proper credentials."