It's one of the highest honors in the military: the Presidential Unit Citation. Today it was presented to two squadrons at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort. They're being rewarded for their role in Operation Iraq Freedom. This is the first Marine unit to be given this honor since 1968, when a Marine unit was awarded it for their role in the Vietnam War.
"Your role in carrying out his will in support of our national interest are now a part of America's history," said Col. Dave Peeler.
Marines and sailors from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 and Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 put their lives on the line during in Iraq as they served with the First Expeditionary Force. That's the force that destroyed nine Iraqi divisions, earning it the prestigious award, given for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance in action against enemy forces.
"It's an honor, very proud of it," said Sgt. Bill Washington. "I'm glad I was with this squadron."
But earning that recognition was not easy. "It's good to see the Marines who worked so hard out there 18 hours a day, little sleep, worried, stressed out, get this honor," said Cpl. Micah Snead.
"I think we had a huge impact when we were over there," said Sgt Jeremiah MacDonald. "I know we dropped over 800 pounds of ordinance."
"It's what the Marine Corps does, we go out, defend our nation and that's what you do, and very proud to be a part of it," said Lt. Col. Mark Hall.
And if they're called upon again, the Thunderbolts and the Hawks will proudly serve again. Lt. Bill Washington said, "It's my job. It's my honor to do that, and if that's where the Marine Corps needs me to go, that's where I'll be."
The commanding general of the second Marine Aircraft Wing, which is in charge of the squadrons at the air Station, says it's pretty likely Marines in Beaufort will be called back to the Middle East. He says he's confident they will again come out on top.