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Staff Sgt. Bobby Burbank, left, and soldiers from 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry are presented with medals by Col. Matthew W. Brown, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019, at a small camp in Mosul, Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Bobby Burbank, left, and soldiers from 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry are presented with medals by Col. Matthew W. Brown, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019, at a small camp in Mosul, Iraq. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Staff Sgt. Bobby Burbank, left, and soldiers from 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry are presented with medals by Col. Matthew W. Brown, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019, at a small camp in Mosul, Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Bobby Burbank, left, and soldiers from 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry are presented with medals by Col. Matthew W. Brown, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019, at a small camp in Mosul, Iraq. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Col. Matthew W. Brown, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, speaks to troops of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, following an awards ceremony at a camp in Mosul, Iraq, on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019.
Col. Matthew W. Brown, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, speaks to troops of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, following an awards ceremony at a camp in Mosul, Iraq, on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Troops from the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry gather for a discussion with their brigade commander, Col. Matthew W. Brown, head of 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, at a base camp in the Iraqi city of Mosul on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019.
Troops from the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry gather for a discussion with their brigade commander, Col. Matthew W. Brown, head of 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, at a base camp in the Iraqi city of Mosul on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
1st Lt. Eric Christiansen, left, speaks with his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Travis Tilman, on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019, at a camp in Mosul, Iraq. Tilman's holiday visit was a rare opportunity for him to get out of Baghdad and meet with his battalion's troops spread out around Iraq.
1st Lt. Eric Christiansen, left, speaks with his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Travis Tilman, on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019, at a camp in Mosul, Iraq. Tilman's holiday visit was a rare opportunity for him to get out of Baghdad and meet with his battalion's troops spread out around Iraq. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Col. Matthew W. Brown, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, pins medals on Staff Sgt. Anthony Lee, left, and Spc. Logan Matthews during a ceremony at a camp in Mosul, Iraq, on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019.
Col. Matthew W. Brown, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, pins medals on Staff Sgt. Anthony Lee, left, and Spc. Logan Matthews during a ceremony at a camp in Mosul, Iraq, on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Col. Matthew W. Brown, left, speaks with Spc. Brandon Laycock from 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry after presenting him with a coin, Dec. 26, 2019, for his work on the communications networks at the camp in Mosul, Iraq, where the soldier is deployed.
Col. Matthew W. Brown, left, speaks with Spc. Brandon Laycock from 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry after presenting him with a coin, Dec. 26, 2019, for his work on the communications networks at the camp in Mosul, Iraq, where the soldier is deployed. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

MOSUL, Iraq — Some soldiers deployed to northern Iraq got more than stocking stuffers this week when senior leaders visited and recognized their contributions to the coalition battling the Islamic State.

Col. Matthew W. Brown, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division wished troops in Nineveh province happy holidays on Wednesday and Thursday and presented them with awards, handed out coins and gathered feedback.

The brigade has been in Iraq and Syria since August, supporting U.S. special operations units and advising, assisting and enabling Iraqi and Syrian partner forces’ counter-ISIS missions.

Brown and his senior enlisted soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew E. Ladd, presented achievement or commendation medals to more than a dozen soldiers at Qayara Airfield West, an airbase near Mosul known as Q-West that was retaken from ISIS in 2016, and the Nineveh Operations Command, a small camp on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, inside Iraq’s second-largest city. Several others received coins for what one official called “everyday badassery.”

“As I walked around and we talked to every single soldier that was recognized here … there were some common themes,” Brown told a formation in Mosul. “This individual was right out in the thick of things and extending what we do, this individual was taking care of our people, this individual was allowing us to operate.”

The medals, which count toward promotion points, are an important way to recognize soldiers who perform beyond what’s expected of them, said Maj. Adam Kirschling, executive officer of 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, a part of the brigade deployed mainly to Q-West.

Staff Sgts. Bobby Burbank and Robert Carlson of 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry in Mosul, received Army Commendation Medals for helping a team of Marine Raiders secure a Syrian oil field, and assisting a Green Beret and linguist to maintain good relations between U.S. forces and several Iraqi villages.

Lt. Col. Travis Tilman, commander of the 70th Brigade Engineer Battalion within the brigade, used the trip to visit some of the far-flung members of his battalion, such as Lt. Eric Christiansen, who he said has been an “overall badass.”

A former art teacher who became an Army medic before commissioning, Christiansen spent his first three months in Iraq leading operations to clear improvised explosive devices from roads and surveying bridges in need of repair in the area surrounding al-Asad Air Base in western Anbar province.

Some of the roads spanned dozens of culverts, the 32-year-old said, and each one had to be checked.

“It just takes one,” he said of the IED threat.

The brigade command team also gathered the troops for a series of closed-door “sensing sessions,” where some soldiers asked about more opportunities for patrols or to train Iraqi forces, who they think need more help.

U.S. officials have curbed some off-base operations in the country due to increased threats from Iran-backed Shiite militias, who in the past have targeted U.S. troops with IEDs and rockets, an official said.

Ladd assured the soldiers in Mosul that though they may not hear it enough their efforts matter.

“What you’re doing up here is allowing them (the Iraqis) to get after fighting ISIS,” he said.

garland.chad@stripes.com Twitter: @chadgarland

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Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. An Illinois native who’s reported for news outlets in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Oregon and California, he’s an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University.
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