by Staff Sgt. Gregory Sanders, 504th BFSB Public Affairs
FORT HOOD, Texas – Family and friends bid farewell to nearly 125 Soldiers assigned to 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, during a ceremony at West Fort Hood Gym Thursday morning, Sept. 19, marking the start of a scheduled nine month deployment to Afghanistan.
“Our task will be at times dangerous; we will be asked to frequently and constantly adjust to an ever changing operational environment as we prepare to conclude the 12 year old mission in Afghanistan,” remarked Lt. Col. Mark Johnson, commander, 163rd MI Bn. “I will say it again; there is no better trained and ready military intelligence battalion in the Army today to deploy and conduct operations in support of Regional Command East.”
The 163rd trained just over a year for this particular mission, honing skills from the individual and small team levels, up to company-sized elements, in order to minimize the danger the commander mentions.
“The Soldiers are excited and eager to get started. They have trained for the last 13 months and the time has come,” Johnson said of his troops.
Soldiers like Sgt. Kayla Orona-Cortes display that eagerness, albeit peppered with a bit of nerves.
Having deployed once before to Afghanistan, Sgt. Orona-Cortes, a human intelligence collector, said she is “a little anxious,” and “ready to get going” on completing the mission of assisting the Afghan National Army establish some sort of anonymity, as well as witnessing what has been done since her last deployment.
“I think it’s pretty exciting to see the progress and see how it’s gone. I think it will be really good for them to finally take over for themselves.”
Previous deployment experience of loved ones helps some Families gain perspective and understanding. The Therlfall Family, more aware of what their son faces this time around, travelled from Dallas to see Sgt. James Therlfall off on his second deployment.
“Last time I didn’t know what to expect and he was in a worse place then,” said Leigh Ann Threlefall, Mother of Sgt. Threlfall, the battalion operations NCO. “It’s actually easier this time.”
Comparing this deployment to his last, Sgt. Threlfall said “I don’t see it being any different; I am just doing a different job this time.”
His wife Jennifer, however, isn’t convinced this deployment is business as usual. The two weren’t married during Threlfall’s first deployment to Iraq, so this is a unique process.
“I have never gone through this before,” Jennifer said, adding that she feels “mixed emotions” and even “scared”.
The battalion commander recognized the importance of Families and the support they provide.
“To the Families…Thank you for your support and everything you have done and all the support you have provided us,” said Johnson. “I am sure you will continue to provide us support while we are down range. Time will go by quickly. You will see us soon.”
163rd MI Bn. Will deploy to support RC-East, while their sister battalion, 303rd MI Bn, also of the 504th BFSB, will support RC-South. Combined, the two battalions will deploy nearly 300 Soldiers.