Cody Barker's recent six-day journey started more than two decades ago.
Barker, a major in the Air Force and a Summit Park resident, was a Navy reservist for four years before his Air Force career, now in its 18th year.
Barker on Sunday returned to Utah, and a delighted family, after 11 months stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan. Barker was in charge of the Army's decoration program in Afghanistan, processing the paperwork that is required before a soldier is honored with a medal. He ensured the personal information was accurate and investigate whether the medal was validly earned.
"A lot of heroic acts were and still are being carried out . . . It's very inspiring," Barker said in an interview on Monday.
Between 1,000 and 1,500 medals or other decorations were processed in a typical month, he said. The most common he handled were Army Commendation Medals, bronze pieces emblazoned with a bald eagle on the front, and he processed numerous Silver Stars.
He did not know any of the soldiers he was learning about as the paperwork was processed. Two weeks ago, he learned of a soldier killed in Afghanistan due a posthumous honor. The soldier had been in Afghanistan for 36 hours before he was killed, Barker said.
He said he processed few casualty and valor honors, which are the most hallowed. The ones involving casualties were the most sobering.
"You're able to read the story of these individuals' lives, what they meant to their fellow service members," he said, adding, "Those are the ones that help you think and understand the value of life."
He also researched and processed information requests from congressional offices and oversaw battlefield promotions.
Barker is 42 years old and has lived in Summit County for almost three years. His 11-month assignment in Kabul ended in July. He arrived in Utah on a civilian plane after flying from Kabul to Bagram Airfield, also in Afghanistan, to Kyrgyzstan. He flew to Baltimore from there and then to Salt Lake City. The Kabul-to-Salt Lake City journey took six days.
His family greeted him at Salt Lake City International Airport in a classic scene of an overjoyed military family.
"It was a huge relief, because I had missed everybody so, so much," he said. "It was nice seeing the U.S. smiling faces."
Barker plans to teach in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Utah. He expects to retire from the Air Force in a little more than a year. After his military retirement, he wants to work in human resources at the university. He does not anticipate being sent into another combat situation.
He said the situation in Afghanistan remains difficult. The Afghan people appreciate the U.S.-led effort to topple the Taliban that once ruled the country, and the nation is learning what must be accomplished to become self-sufficient and provide its own security, Barker said, adding that the transformation continues to be difficult.
"Your'e talking about a nation that is very steeped in its tradition and religious lifestyle," Barker said.
He said, though, advances have been made, such as the Afghan military and police involvement in security matters.
Monday afternoon Barker was focused on his wife, Carrie, and their two youngsters, 5-year-old twins Colby and Carlee. The family spent the evening eating pizza and bowling at Jupiter Bowl.
"I was very, very happy to be back with my wife and kids, first and foremost," he said.