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91 soldiers honored for service in Afghanistan

By Paul Harris

The 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry returned just this past month from one of the most dangerous areas in Afghanistan. On Wednesday afternoon at Fort Riley, 91 soldiers were rewarded for their bravery during that mission.

The 91 medals presented Wednesday included 64 Purple Hearts, 27 Bronze Stars for valor, and eight Army Commendation medals for Valor.

Purple hearts are given to soldiers who are wounded or killed in action. The Bronze Star with Valor, considered one of the most prestigious military awards, is given to a soldier who displays heroic or meritorious achievement during their deployment. Similar qualifications apply for the Army Commendation for Valor.

Specialist James Rogers achieved the rare feat of receiving all three medals Wednesday. Rogers received his Purple Heart for an injury he sustained while on a dismounted patrol. He received his Army Commendation with Valor for holding a key compound away from the Taliban, and he received his Bronze Star for the accumulation of his tour.

According to Command Sergeant Major Charles Cook, who has spent nearly 30 years in the army, the number of awards presented Wednesday was unusual, but deserved. “That’s the most violent action I have seen in 30 years,” Cook said of the brigade’s duty.

Cook said he was part of a squadron of 775 people that did a 15-month tour in Afghanistan, and that group received a total of four Purple Hearts. The 4-4 Cav was stationed in the birthplace of the Taliban in the Zhari district, located in the Kandahar province. Lt. Col. Michael Katona, the squadron’s commander, said there were only four days of non-activity during the unit’s 300-day stay.

By contrast, there were 1,203 moments of significant activity, among them cache finds, rocket, bomb and gun fights, more than 1,100 of the latter.

Although the event featured many moments of high praise, Katona took time at the end to recognize the seven members of the squadron who did not make it home.

The seven were: Spec. Garrett A. Fant, from California; Spec. Chazray C. Clark, from Michigan; PFC Brice M. Scott, from Georgia; Spec. Nicholas C. D. Hensley, from Alabama; PFC Gustavo A. Rios-Ordonez, from Ohio; Spec. Adam S. Hamilton, from Ohio; and Sgt. Amaru Aguilar, from Florida.

According to Katona, the squadron was able to push much of the Taliban out of the area and upon their departure, the village that the men were stationed at started to establish schools. They also were in the process of setting up a civilian run police station.

He said Afghan children and adults praised the soldiers for their work in dissolving the Taliban.

Soldiers’ families were also in attendance. The son of Staff Sergeant Larry Pierce attended to see him receive a Purple Heart. “She took care of our two kids and she’s pretty strong,” Pierce said of his wife, Wendy. “It ain’t easy.”

Pierce said he wears the uniform in attempt to give his kids a better life than his father gave him.

“It’s not hard being a father,” Pierce said. “I just try to do better things than my father did and give them what they need.”

Four year-old Mason Pierce said it was “awesome” to see his dad receive his Purple Heart.

Wendy Pierce echoed her son’s sentiments and said she was “very proud” and “very happy that he made it home safe and sound.”

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