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Soldiers honored for valor in combat in Afghanistan

The dangerous passage through Afghanistan's Ghazni province from the capital Kabul to the southern al-Qaida stronghold of Kandahar hadn't been cleared in 10 years of war.

Until the 1st Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment arrived in 2012.

"You came in there and systematically cleared areas that hadn't been cleared for 10 years, that had never been cleared," Maj. Gen. John Nicholson said Monday. "That's no exaggeration. That's just a fact."

Nicholson, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, spoke before presenting 16 soldiers with combat awards for valor during a ceremony Monday afternoon at the All American Chapel. Five received the Army Commendation Medal with Valor, 11 received the Purple Heart and one, Spc. Patrick L. Besemer, was awarded both.

In front of about 200 hundred colleagues, the 16 soldiers stood motionless on the chapel stage throughout the brief ceremony as their considerable achievements were read aloud. Their faces registered barely a flicker until Nicholson saluted each in turn, along with a warm handshake. The echoing chapel was silent until a heartily sustained round of applause broke out at the end.

Besemer is a 120 mm mortar gunner who risked his life while under heavy fire to advance to a mortar firing point and laying down fire that helped end an attack on July 24 , 2012, according to the commendation.

Sgt. Michael A. Chung Loy received the Army Commendation Medal with Valor for leaving the safety of a bunker during an ambush to retrieve medical supplies for severely wounded paratroopers who would otherwise have died, his commendation said.

Spc. Andrew P. Rasmussen also was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor. According to his commendation, Rasmussen rushed to perform lifesaving procedures on a wounded paratrooper during an ambush.

Staff Sgt. Joshua C. Bracey and Spc. Ka Hing Chan received the Army Commendation Medal with Valor for risking themselves so a medic could evaluate and treat two of their wounded comrades during a June 15 ambush. Hing left cover to fire four mortar rounds, and Bracey bounded 40 meters across open terrain under fire, the commendations said.

Sgt. Nicholas C. Fredsti died in the June 15 attack and was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart and the NATO Medal that same month. He was one of four soldiers from the 504th who died in Afghanistan in 2012.

"Some of these guys didn't make it home," said Capt. Neil Alcaria, an 82nd Airborne Division spokesman.

The Purple Heart is the world's oldest military decoration currently in use and is given to soldiers wounded in action. Also receiving Purple Hearts in Monday's ceremony were 1st Lt. Matthew L. Jackson; 1st Lt. Mark P. Lucas; Staff Sgt. Matthew L. Allen; Staff Sgt. James H. Miller; Staff Sgt. Bradley C. Stevenson; Sgt. Laquan E. Borden; Sgt. Corey J. Stephenson; Spc. Patrick M. Carney; Spc. Thomas R. Clark; and Spc. Joshua M Weisman.

Nicholson said each is owed the nation's gratitude, as well as that of their comrades.

"Thank you for volunteering to serve your country through our longest war," he said. "We as your brothers and sisters owe you a debt."

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