CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan -- The S.C. National Guard might need to commandeer a C-17 transport plane from Charleston Air Force Base to haul home all the medals its soldiers have earned during the past year here.
The 1,800 troops in the Guard's 218th Brigade Combat Team have received or are awaiting the award of more than 1,000 honors for heroism and meritorious service.
The Newberry-headquartered brigade's year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan ends today, when it hands over command of Task Force Phoenix to the N.Y. National Guard's 27th Brigade Combat.
The highest medal awarded to the South Carolinians, a Bronze Star for Valor, went to five soldiers.
That medal's cousin, the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service, was awarded to 264 S.C. soldiers. That total includes 58 medals that are pending, awaiting approval from higher officials.
The Bronze Star is the fourth-highest award the Army bestows. It can be awarded only for duty in a combat zone.
Medals are awarded based on a soldier's responsibilities and how he or she performed, Capt. Mike Dovey of Mount Pleasant said.
Another factor is a soldier's pay grade. For example, the 218th assumed command of Task Force Phoenix as it took on the additional job of mentoring the Afghan police.
The Task Force had only half the soldiers it needed to do the added job. As a result, soldiers were pressed into extra duty in many cases.
It wasn't unusual for a staff sergeant, for example, to be in charge of a platoon. That job normally is assigned to a sergeant first class, a higher rank.
In other instances, a sergeant first class took on the role of platoon leader, normally assigned to a lieutenant.
Those added responsibilities beyond their normal duties made the soldiers medal worthy.
"We had staff sergeants who got a Bronze Star and lieutenant colonels who got only an Army Commendation medal," said Brig. Gen. Bob Livingston, commander of the S.C. brigade.
Although the S.C. brigade took on a supposedly non-combat mission, many of its soldiers wound up in the thick of fighting.
Forty-seven soldiers suffered wounds inflicted by the enemy and have received or will receive the Purple Heart, the nation's oldest military award.
In addition, about 400 troops will receive a combat badge. The badge goes to soldiers who have been engaged by the enemy. The incidents ranged from being shot at to surviving a bomb attack.
Among the combat badge recipients is Livingston, whose convoy was in a brief firefight about three weeks ago.
The incident happened in Nangarhar province, along the eastern border of Afghanistan. Livingston was visiting troops in that area when shots rained down on his convoy from the hills above the road. There were no injuries and the convoy pushed on.
Livingston of Lexington Country shrugged off the incident, noting he visited 180 locations manned by Task Force Phoenix troops over the last year.
"Sooner or later, the statistics were going to catch up with me," Livingston said. "I spend a lot of my time down where soldiers get shot at. That's my job."