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.