This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
CAMP WILLIAMS - It was July 3, 2003, and Utah National Guard soldiers in the 1457th Engineer Combat Battalion deployed in Iraq were preparing to observe America's Independence Day when roadside bombs crippled a convoy unit in front of them. It knocked out several vehicles and severely injured Americans and Iraqis.
The unit found itself under small-arms fire when the 2nd Platoon of the 1457th's Company B - nicknamed the "Saloon Platoon," by its leader, Sgt. 1st Class Richard Thalman - surrounded the attacked unit, repelled the fire and evacuated the wounded.
On Sunday, Thalman was one of three Utahns from the 1457th to be awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in a war zone.
"He was awarded the Bronze Star for the cumulative effect of his service and leadership during the time he was in Iraq," said Lt. Col. Jeff Burton, 1457th commander, who also received the Bronze Star on Sunday, along with Capt. Mel Anderson, who was the battalion's intelligence officer during its deployment in Baghdad from February 2003 to May of this year.
The three now make 22 Bronze Star recipients from the 1457th's performance in the Iraq war.
"The way these young people responded in extremely difficult circumstances amazed me every day," said Burton. "They were highly professional, always. They had to balance being shot at all the time to treating the Iraqi people with kindness and respect. And they did that."
"I love you guys," Thalman said to his "Saloon Platoon" colleagues during a special Company B award ceremony at Camp Williams. Burton and Anderson received their medals from Brigadier Gen. Stanley Gordon during a ceremony later in the day, at the National Guard Headquarters Armory in American Fork.
All three men said the medals belonged to all the men and women in the battalion, whose mission was to help restore previously abandoned military police headquarters and provide support and protection to American and Iraqi troops.
"Your training suddenly kicks in and what you do becomes automatic, without thinking what might happen to you," said Thalman of the incident where his platoon helped evacuate the wounded while under fire in Baghdad. He said his No. 1 goal "was to get everyone home in one piece, get everybody back alive."
Burton proudly affirmed that goal was reached. "Everybody came back," he said of the 450 members of the 1457th. "We had three wounded, but they have recovered and are fine."
Anderson, as the battalion's intelligence officer, used his fluency in Arabic to interact with the local citizens and gauge the political, social and military climates in the area.
"It was his job to assess the dangers and relay that back to us," said Burton.
The three recipients were joined by their families for the ceremonies, the first of which was a surprise to Thalman.
"When I saw the media here, I knew something was up. When I saw my family come in, that's when it hit me."
Meanwhile, six soldiers from the Utah National Guard's Detachment 50 Operational Support Airlift stationed at West Jordan's Army Aviation Facility returned home Friday after serving in the Middle East for six months.
While family members greeted them upon their return, the families of seven Utah soldiers from the 211th Aviation Battalion departed Sunday morning for Afghanistan. They are replacing soldiers who have returned home because of injuries or family emergencies.