URUZGAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan National Army (ANA) unit partnered with the 1039th Engineer Company is now validated to conduct full independent route clearance operations as part of their normal duties to keep the roads safe in Afghanistan.<br /> <br /> The 120th Engineer Battalion and its 1039th Engineers met Feb. 23 to congratulate the Route Clearance Company (RCC) of the ANA’s 4th Brigade, 205th Corps, on their successful validation of mission essential tasks.<br /> <br /> “Our ANA partners here have done a great job of learning their tasks to become independent and conduct route clearance here in Afghanistan,” said 1st Lt. Michael Lyons, 1039th ANA liaison officer. <br /> <br /> “The soldiers of the 4th of the 205th are highly trained and efficient,” said Sgt. 1st Class Barry Curtis. “They have actually been conducting limited independent operations since early for several months.”<br /> <br /> Lt. Col. Jack Ritter, 120th Engineer Battalion Commander, presented Col. Mohammad Rasool Qandahari, commander of the 4th Bde., 205th Corps, with the Oklahoma Thunderbird medal in recognition of the RCC’s achievements.<br /> <br /> The Oklahoma Thunderbird Medal was designed to recognize and reward an individual or organization demonstrating outstanding service, achievement or contribution made in support of the Oklahoma National Guard in the performance of their missions. Eligible recipients must not be members of the United States Armed Forces, but can include retirees, foreign dignitaries, or coalition forces.<br /> <br /> Before presenting the Thunderbird Medal, Lt. Col. Ritter addressed the ANA troops in formation and thanked them for their outstanding service and dedication to making their country safer.<br /> <br /> “This award is a direct reflection on the work and dedication that the soldiers of this unit put forward. Each and every member of this company made the efforts to earn this award,” Ritter said. <br /> <br /> “The 4th of the 205th is one of the best ANA Route Clearance Companies in Afghanistan, and the 1039th did a great job in partnering and preparing them to take the lead in clearing routes in this area” he added.<br /> <br /> Capt. Said Mahboob, commander of the 4th of the 205th RCC said, “It gives me great pride to help improve the ANA as a professional organization, and to protect our country by making it safer for the Afghan people.”<br /> <br /> Following the presentation of the award, many members of the unit took turns getting their pictures taken with the plaque. Approximately a dozen members of the ANA, to include the Brigade and Company commander, were invited to dinner with Lt. Col. Ritter, his staff, and the 1039th command.<br /> <br /> “It was great to be there and see the unit recognized for their efforts,” said Task Force Outlaw ANA liaison Capt. Montana Dugger. “They have come a long way, and made great strides to accomplish this.”<br /> <br /> Dugger also explained the way ahead now that the ANA Company is validated: “We will take more of a back seat role as the ANA take the lead. Our company level partnership teams will move more towards mentorship, concentrating more on critique of effectiveness and less on training,” he explained.