PEORIA, Ill. -- Dozens of army national guard soldiers were saluted this morning for their efforts in maintaining the country's freedom.
60 soldiers from the 238th General Support Aviation Battalion were recognized at a Freedom Salute ceremony.
The unit was deployed to Afghanistan in January of last year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
They returned home in December.
While in Afghanistan they flew Chinook helicopters for air assault missions along with re-supply operations and maintenance support.
"They stood head and shoulders above any other unit," said Major C.J. Pulcher. "This CH-47 Delta Company I would put up against any other company in the army inventory, and they would come out on top."
Defending our country comes with a price, however.
Many soldiers went an entire year without seeing loved ones.
Being home never felt this good for Army National Guard Sergeant, Edward Ackert.
Ackert is a flight engineer with the 238th aviation battalion.
"It makes me really proud to do something like this. I grew up wanting to be a soldier, and I wanted to be in aviation," said Ackert. "It is difficult to leave your friends and family behind, but you just have to know that they are there supporting you. Someday this is all going to end."
While Ackert was sacrificing his life for the country, he was also sacrificing time with loved ones.
"There would be a week or so without any contact depending on their flight schedule or if he had access to the internet," said Ackert's girlfriend, Kayla Barnet.
Meanwhile, Ackert's unit was tasked with flying more than 3,000 combat hours carrying millions of pounds of cargo.
But the mission didn't always go as planned.
During their mission, a hail storm caused extensive damage to all 12 of their aircraft.
But crews were able to quickly restore them in just two weeks.
For now, the soldiers remain based in Peoria.
But if a mission is presented again, Ackert said he is ready.