HOULTON, Maine — A recently retired member of the Maine Army National Guard has received one of the U.S. Army’s highest awards.

Master Sgt. Darrell A. Hanning of Houlton was awarded the prestigious Legion of Merit award by Col. Hamilton D. Richards, commander of the 120th Regional Support Group Bangor, who presented Hanning with the Legion of Merit award during a brief ceremony Dec. 5 at the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians tribal offices in Littleton.

Hanning retired from the Army National Guard in November.

“Over the past five years, only two soldiers of his rank have received the Legion of Merit,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Smith of the 286th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion from the Maine Army National Guard. “The Maine Army National Guard only awards on the average of four per year, and usually they go to high-ranking officers. The award is only approved if the soldier has a stellar 20-year career earning many preceding awards to build their portfolio.”

The Legion of Merit award was established by an act of Congress in 1942. It is presented to members of the armed forces for exceptional meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service and achievement. The award is one of only two United States military neck decorations, the other being the Medal of Honor. It is the sixth in the order of importance of U.S. military awards.

“This is a very prestigious award,” said Richards. “In fact, it is normally only awarded to colonels in the Army or Marine Corps, naval captains or flag officers. In order for an enlisted solider (like Hanning) to get it, there has to be exceptionally meritorious service over the course of a career. Mst. Sgt. Hanning has had that.”

Richards said he wanted to be the person to present the award to Hanning.

“I went to war with MSgt. Hanning,”Richards said. “We deployed to Afghanistan, and I can tell you from personal experience, he was my right-hand man. He is an outstanding noncommissioned officer and a genuine American hero.”

Hanning spoke briefly at the ceremony and became emotional when thanking his family for their sacrifices through the years. He also gave a brief background of how he became the person he is today.

“I wasn’t the brightest guy around,” Hanning joked. “But one thing I know, that if you really care and put forth an honest effort, you can accomplish much. That is one thing that I wore on my shoulders for 21 years in the service.”

Hanning joined the U.S. Army on Oct. 8, 1990, completing his basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Sill, Okla. Hanning’s first duty assignment was in Wildfleken, Germany, where he served as a cannon crew member on the M109 self-propelled howitzers with B Battery 2/11th ACR.

Hanning’s unit deployed to Iraq from June through October of 1991. Returning to Germany, he served two more years and was promoted to the rank of corporal before being reassigned to Fort Campbell, Ky. with the 101st Airborne Light Artillery Division. Hanning served until 1994 and was honorably discharged.

In February of 1996, Hanning enlisted with Battery B 1/152nd Field Artillery of the Maine Army National Guard in Houlton. Within a month of his enlisting, Hanning secured a full-time AGR position as the unit armorer/supply NCO, reclassifying his MOS from 13B to 92Y.

Within three months, Hanning was promoted to staff sergeant. He stayed with Battery B until April 2001 when he was promoted to the battalion supply sergeant and obtained rank of sergeant first class at headquarters 1/152FA BN in Caribou.

Hanning remained as a battalion supply sergeant until 2005 before being promoted to master sergeant of the 52nd Troop Command in Bangor. Within a short time span, Hanning volunteered and deployed with the 240th Engineers as the brigade supply sergeant, Combined Joint Task Force Chamberlain.

“It was there that his years of being an expert logistician paid off as his office supported the 27th and 37th Engineers, Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Polk, La., and both the Polish and Korean coalition,” read Smith.

After returning, Hanning went back to the 52nd Troop Command, spending the last four years spearheading logistics, deploying and redeploying soldiers and their equipment in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Hanning has received numerous awards including: a Bronze Star Medal; two Army Commendation Medals; two Army Achievement Medals; an Afghanistan Campaign Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Southwest Asia Service Medal; eight Army Reserve Component Overseas Training Ribbons; Army Service Ribbon; Meritorious Unit Commendation; NATO Medal; Armed Forces Reserved Medal with M Device; Overseas Service Ribbon; four Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbons; two National Defense Service Medals; Humanitarian Service Medal; six Army Good Conduct Medals; Maine Ice Guard Award with Device; five Maine Physical Fitness Awards; Air Assault Badge, Driver and Mechanic badges, and Meritorious Service Medal.

Hanning lives in Houlton with his wife, Heather; daughter, Kiana; and sons Darrell II and Andrew.