The Estonian infantry company ESTCOY-E, which was dispatched to provide security during the elections in Afghanistan, as well as the Estonian logistical support element NSE-E arrived home from their mission Monday night.
Meeting the soldiers, Defence Minister Jaak Aaviksoo gave the arriving personnel international peace operations medals, military spokespeople said.
"The Afghanistan that you left behind is little bit safer, better and more optimistic a place than the one that you went to," the minister was quoted as saying.
"What you have done for us, for our allies and for everyone who sent you on the mission puts an obligation on the decision-makers -- the government and the parliament -- to stand for your interests," Aaviksoo said.
"I'm offering you my heartfelt thanks for accepting the challenge to fulfil the combat assignment you were given unexpectedly -- to go to Afghanistan again and risk your lives," said the commander of the Estonian Defence Forces, Lt. Gen. Ants Laaneots.
The defence chief gave the Defence Forces' Distinguished Service Decoration to three members of the returning contingent and the Defence Forces' Meritorious Service Decoration to five others.
Six officers and soldiers were decorated with the Ground Forces' Decoration by Commander of the Army Col. Indrek Sirel.
ESTOCOY-E ended its operations in Afghanistan on 15 November. The 134-strong company operated in the composition of the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Regiment of the 2nd US Marine Brigade in the Garmshir area in the southern part of Helmand Province.
Upon the ending of operations, Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the US Marine Corps, decorated the commander of the Estonian company, Maj. Ain Tiidrus, with the US Navy and Marine Corps service medal. The brigadier general recognised five soldiers with Navy and Marine Corps commendation medals and presented NATO mission medals to members of ESTCOY-E.
The company was set up on the basis of the Scouts' Battalion. It is the same unit that will be brought into the Baltic countries' joint infantry battalion, NRF-14, in the first half of 2010.
After the return of ESTCOY-E, the regular Estonian Afghanistan mission unit ESTCOY-9, the support element NSE-8 and staff officers and non-com staff officers will remain serving in NATO operations in Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan.
Estonia's previous regular mission unit, ESTCOY-8, and the support element NSE-7 are due home in the coming few days.
The Estonian Defence Forces have been taking part in military operations in Afghanistan since 2003.
ESTCOY-E returns from Afghanistan