Updated Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 10:31 PM
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — After a deployment to southern Afghanistan, more than 3,500 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division have returned to this Western Washington base, where on Tuesday some were honored for their service.
During the awards ceremony, eight soldiers received Purple Hearts, 35 received Bronze Stars and five received Bronze Stars for Valor, including Sgt. 1st Class Joe Stalinski, who survived insurgent fire to rescue three Afghan children caught in a battle zone.
That rescue unfolded this year in the village of Mutashim, when Stalinski's unit was pinned down by insurgents who fired from two directions. About 25 meters away, Stalinski says he noticed a young girl, a toddler and a baby in a perilous position.
"So, I said to hell with it, and went and got them," Stalinski recalls. "I snatched the toddler and the baby, and I grabbed that girl by the arm ... and we ran."
As he brought the children to cover, the insurgents continued to fire, he said.
Those honored at the ceremony included many of the brigade's senior leaders who received Bronze Stars for their service in Afghanistan.
Though the brigade had repeatedly deployed to Iraq with eight-wheeled Stryker vehicles, this was the first time the unit headed to Afghanistan.
Some solders arrived in Afghanistan late last year, while others flew there this spring. They were spread out across a West Virginia-size chunk of southern Afghanistan that included Taliban strongholds in Kandahar province.
The awards ceremony was to be held outside but was switched to a gymnasium due to concerns about the weather; space sharply limited attendance.
"Today is about recognition," said Col. Charles Webster, the brigade's commander. "Recognizing that we have returned, and to express our thanks for an incredible job. A job well done on all fronts. Down range, and on the homefront."
Turning to spouses and other family members, Webster said, "You guys deserve a break as much as we do. Many of you even more."
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org