'You go there as one person, you come back another'

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD -- Soldiers packed an auditorium this week to pay tribute to a tough job performed by exceptional soldiers.

Two months ago, it was a day to celebrate coming home for the soldiers known as the Tomahawks. And this week, it was time to celebrate the work they left behind.

"I think I'm surrounded by a bunch of heroes. that's what i think," said Vanessa Moran, a wife of a tomahawk soldier.

Some 1,200 men and women make up the 1st Battalion of the 23rd infantry regiment. The combined Task Force Tomahawk traveled to a far corner of the world called Panjwai, Afghanistan.

"Despite knowing the dangers involved, you raised your hand and said, 'Send me,'" said Brigadier Gen. Billy Don Ferris of the 7th Infantry Division.

For their service and for leaving a piece of themselves behind in Afghanistan, 147 soldiers were awarded the Purple Heart.

"For each of you, all of you, today is your day. We acknowledge your achievement. We salute your courage. We acknowledge your sacrifice," said Ferris.

"Getting up and going, 'Yes, I know it's violent. I know it's angry. I know today might be the last, but I'm going to go, and we're going to go together. And we're going to share fear and pain. We're going to share anxiety," said Sgt. Allan Russell.

Three men -- two from the same company -- received Bronze Stars with Valor.

"Each day going out, there's a good chance that someone was going to be hit by an IED. It happened almost daily," said SSG Kelly Rogne, who received a Bronze Star with Valor.

"Yes, there's always a part of you that will be there," said PFC Charles Preiss, another recipient of a Bronze Star with Valor. "You go there as one person, you come back another."

For all they've been through, they were given a medal, a firm handshake, a salute. These are the rewards for an impossible job done impossibly well. And for the Tomahawks on this day, it's enough.

"Outside of having children, this is going to be the greatest thing some of these guys do in their entire lives. And that's ... an accomplishment," Russell said.

In their last deployment, 10 Tomahawk soldiers did not come home. An additional 196 soldiers were injured.