For Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, the best seat in town Saturday night wasn't at a football stadium. It was at a ceremony conducted at the Airport Hilton in Salt Lake City, where members of the Utah Army National Guard were awarded two dozen Purple Hearts.
   
    "We are in the better seat," Tarbet, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard said. "We are in the company of soldiers and we are honored to be here."
   
    And in another reference to the Utah-BYU game, Tarbet said: "You are the real band of brothers."
   
    He also thanked the family members of the guardsmen for their sacrifices and said he was grateful for their return.
   
    Eighteen members of the 118th Sapper Co. were honored at the ceremony; six of the guardsmen received two Purple Hearts. The award recipients were injured during a recent deployment to Afghanistan.
   
    Lt. Col. Scott Burnhope said he sees the best of their generation in the 118th.
   
    "It is my proud honor to thank each and every one of you," he said.
   
    Many of the recipients said they joined the National Guard because of a desire since childhood to serve in the military. One of them, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Jones, 33, agreed that the Sappers are a "band of brothers."
   
    "I've been in for 13 years and this is the closest unit I've ever been a part of," he said.
   
    Sgt. Colton Shakespear was 17 years old when he joined the National Guard seven years ago.
   
    "I always wanted to be in the Army," said Shakespear, who received two medals.
   
    The Sappers are part of the 1457th Engineer Battalion, 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade based in American Fork. About 120 members returned home on July 10 after a year of clearing routes, a dangerous mission, mostly in the Khost and Paktia provinces of Afghanistan.
   
    The unit lost one of its members, James Thode, 45, a police officer from Kirtland, N.M., last December in a roadside bomb attack. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
   
    "Words can't describe the amount of pride I feel for this company," Capt. Blake Bingham, the company commander, said Saturday.
   
    The medal is given to members of the Armed Forces who are "wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action," according to a statement from the Utah National Guard.
   
    Specifically a combat decoration, the Purple Heart initially was created as the Badge of Military Merit by Gen. George Washington. It was the first American award made available to the common soldier.
   
    pmanson@sltrib.com
   
    Soldiers awarded Purple Hearts
   
    Eighteen soldiers who earned Purple Hearts were recognized Saturday night in Salt Lake City. The honorees and the dates they were wounded are:
   
    Michael Linger Ogden, Sept. 16, 2010
   
    Colton Shakespear Santaquin, two medals: Dec. 2, 2010, and April 11, 2011
   
    Jose Munoz American Fork, March 19, 2011
   
    Budge T. Porritt Lehi, Dec. 24, 2010
   
    Kyle Bowler Orem, Dec. 24, 2010
   
    Abraham Butler Monticello, April 11, 2011
   
    Jacob Mayne Price, two medals: Dec. 2, 2010, and April 11, 2011
   
    Kevin Dimond Murray, two medals: May 9, 2011, and May 17, 2011
   
    Jeremiah Barnett Plain City, two medals: May 9, 2011, and May 17, 2011
   
    Sterling Juarez Orem, May 9, 2011
   
    Somsak Hendricks Salt Lake City, two medals: May 9, 2011, and May 17, 2011
   
    Travis Pharmer Eagle Mountain, two medals: Dec. 9, 2010, and May 31, 2011
   
    Hyrum Chamberlain Saratoga Springs, May 31, 2011
   
    Michael Seifert Woods Cross, June 11, 2011
   
    Mathew Ellenberger Highland, June 11, 2011
   
    Anthony Gonzales Sandy, June 11, 2011
   
    Zachary Rinck Tooele, June 11, 2011
   
    Paul Jones Eagle Mountain, Sept. 14, 2010