Best of the best

Published 4:25 am Monday, July 10, 2006

With soldiers gathered in combat fatigues and family members snapping photos, it was a familiar scene Saturday for Brewton members of the 1165th Military Police Company.
This was not a sendoff or a welcome home; it was a celebration of the National Guard unit's valor during their 15 months in Iraq.
The 1165th - made up of soldiers from Brewton and Fairhope - received the Presidential Unit Citation and the Valorous Unit Award at a ceremony at Fairhope High School. It's hard to understate the importance of the awards; they are the highest awards a unit can receive from the U.S. military.
And Barnes was not boasting. The unit spent 15 months in Iraq - longer than any other Alabama National Guard unit in the war.
Sgt. John Peavy said he won't forget what the unit lost to receive the awards. In addition to suffering injuries, one guard member, Sgt. Chris Taylor, was killed in combat.
The Presidential Unit Citation is the highest unit award presented in the U.S. Armed Forces.
It is awarded to units for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. The unit must display gallantry and determination that sets it apart for other units in the same campaign.
The degree of heroism to earn the PUC is the same as that which would warrant the award of the Distinguished Service Cross to an individual.
The DSC is second in precedent only to the Medal of Honor for individuals. The citation was presented for distinguished service for the period April 16 to July 15, 2004.
To receive the Valorous Unit Award, the unit must perform so as to set it apart from the other units. The degree of heroism required is the same as the award of the Silver Star to an individual. The award covered the period of May 24, 2003, to Jan. 31, 2004.
The guard unit was among the first deployed to Iraq when the war began. They were mobilized March 15, 2003 - a few days before fighting began - and stayed in Iraq from early May 2003 to late July 2004.
Lt. Col. Sylvester Cannon of the 231st Military Police Company said the guard unit's success was one of the reasons they stayed so long. &#8220Today we recognize the soldiers of the 1165th as the best of the best,” Cannon said.
Even two years after their return, the soldiers are clearly still close, joking with each other and telling stories between the more serious moments in the ceremony.
Chris Butler, the unit's commander during their deployment, said they all grew close during their service in Iraq.
Butler said the guard members will be able to share their stories in the future with veterans of other wars - and they will always be able to display their awards proudly.
Butler said he was reminded of the unit's mission when celebrating July 4 last week.
Several public officials, including Brewton Mayor Ted Jennings, were on hand for the ceremony.
U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., thanked the troops for their work to &#8220spread freedom in a land that did not know what freedom was.”
Alabama Adjutant Gen. Mark Bowen said many people do not understand how important the awards are.
Brig. Gen. Wendell McClain of the 31st Chemical Brigade emphasized that the unit received attention for going above and beyond the call of duty.
The Brewton unit was escorted to Fairhope by the American Legion, and many family members and friends from Brewton attended the ceremony.
John Peavy's wife, Tammy Pettus Peavy, had barely known her husband when he went to Iraq. They did not begin dating until he returned. But, like many people in Brewton, she watched the unit leave and cheered in the streets when they returned.