RALEIGH (WTVD) --The North Carolina National Guard celebrated its 354 years of service with a ceremony at the Raleigh headquarters Friday. Service members shared a cake to commemorate the birthday.
"It's real important for us to celebrate that and everybody to recognize all the traditions and the history of the North Carolina National Guard," said Jim Herring, State Command Chief Warrant Officer for the North Carolina National Guard.
A declaration signed by Governor Roy Cooper was on display. It declares March 24 "North Carolina National Guard Heritage Day".
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Three service members were honored for their heroism with the Soldier and Airman Medal, awarded for the first time.
Specialist Robert Shook rescued a nurse trapped in the flood waters of Hurricane Matthew in Wilson County.
"Even to this day I think back what if I wasn't there?" Specialist Shook said. "I'm glad I was there and I'm glad this is what I do."
Sgt. Charles Roper freed a pilot from a burning plane after a crash in February in Morganton.
"I'm just glad I was there," Sgt. Roper said. "Another 20-30 seconds he would have been in trouble because the fire was already around his feet."
Specialist Semantha Bunce fought off intruders who broke into her Charlotte home. Her now 2-year-old boy Bentley was there during the gun battle and when she got her medal.
"I strongly believe that had I not had that training I don't know that I would even be here today," Specialist Bunce said. "Spending all those hours on the ranges certainly helped me prepare for that."
Despite saving lives, the humble honorees downplayed what they did but say they are thankful for the recognition.
"It means to me that my leadership has thought something highly of me and I think that's the most important thing that came out of it," Specialist Bunce said.
"For me, to be honest, the biggest award is knowing that she was saved and she gets to see her family every day," Specialist Shook said.
Since the September 11 attack, more than 22,000 NC National Guardsmen have deployed for wartime service, according to a news release from the NC National Guard. They also support natural disaster incidents.
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