FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- "Big Red One" soldiers were honored for their service and bravery at Fort Riley Wednesday after returning from Afghanistan.
Commanders say they faced off against the enemy nearly every day for a year during a dangerous and deadly deployment.
The 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, held a ceremony to award soldiers for valorous actions at Fort Riley's Marshall Army Airfield Wednesday afternoon.
The soldiers are just back from Afghanistan and during the ceremony, commanders gave out eight Army Commendation Medals for Valor, 25 Bronze Stars for Service and 48 Purple Hearts.
"Because of individual actions of soldiers in this squadron, 4-4 Cav defeated the Taliban in central Zhari, freed the people in that area from oppression and in the process, made history. The warriors in this room destroyed thousands of pounds of homemade explosives, military vests and military grade explosives," said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Katona, Squadron Commander.
"There’s 144 total Purple Hearts earned across the squadron of just a little over 500 soldiers. We did have contact with the Taliban when we were in Afghanistan but I couldn’t be more proud of these soldiers for the amount of security that we brought to the people in Afghanistan and for the way we’ve improved the quality of life for the Afghans," added Command Sergeant Major Charles S. Cook.
"We took some fire. I was slightly injured and stayed around and continued to lead the platoon through probably the toughest four days that we had," said Sergeant First Class James Rogers who was awarded one of each of the medals given out at the ceremony.
Not far on the soldiers’ minds were seven squadron members who were killed in action.
"I’m thinking a lot about the guys we did lose. It’s nice to be home and be back with our families but we’re the lucky ones that made it back. A lot of us came home with purple hearts but at least we came home," said Sergeant Zachary Newbury who was awarded a Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal for Valor.
The "Pale Riders" supported Operation Enduring Freedom as part of Combined Task Force Strike and Combined Task Force Spartan, while partnered with the 2nd Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps from the Afghan National Army.
The unit conducted hundreds of combat patrols denying the insurgents freedom to move at will and facilitated the construction of tactical infrastructure.
Over the course of deployment: eight new pieces of tactical infrastructure were built, five new roads were cut, and eight air assaults were conducted to separate the insurgents from the population.