By Rose L. Thayer
Fort Hood Herald
Families from Austin and Dallas traveled to Fort Hood on Saturday to meet soldiers of the 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, who they will support and pray for during the unit's yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
Known as the Phantom Trackers, the long-range reconnaissance squadron, hardly a year old, is already set to deploy next week.
About 1,500 people attended the deployment send-off party outside Club Hood, which featured food, fun and a concert, as part of Operation Pray Me Home, an effort of the church PromiseLand West in Austin to encourage civilians to support soldiers and their families.
"Our whole purpose is to hopefully open other people to this," said Jimmy Myers, family pastor at PromiseLand West. "How come every deployment the soldiers aren't feeling this loved and this missed?"
Each soldier in the squadron is sponsored by a civilian family whose members have pledged their support through prayer, care packages and letters.
Enough donations were raised to provide soldiers a deployment bag with about $200 worth of goodies inside, including a Tempur-Pedic travel pillow.
Lt. Col. David Jones, the squadron commander, said soldiers overseas often receive care packages from anonymous people and efforts like Saturday's party help put a face to the soldier.
Jones said it also provided the unit with an organizational day it wasn't likely to get without sponsorship, because it is a new unit with a small budget.
Pvt. Roy Durocher of Bravo Troop said the event made him feel proud of his unit.
"It let's you know that you're doing something for a reason," the New Jersey native said.
Durocher looks forward to the support the sponsoring families will provide.
"It's good just to get a letter and know someone is thinking about you. It puts a smile on your face."
The Phantom Trackers spent much of the last year away from friends and family because of training exercises in the field. Jones said that time helped the unit build an identity and teamwork.
The squadron is unique in that it's the first time the Army has brought together airborne long-range scouts from infantry and motorized armor scouts, which Jones said are known to have a rivalry.
"To bring them together is a recipe for spiciness," Jones said. So he created the name "tracker," which is a third identity without a history on either side.
"We're not Special Forces, but we're beyond conventional," Jones said. "There's one thing we can do well and we can find the bad guys. We can find you and we can track you. In the counterinsurgency fight, that's pretty important."
The squadron was activated June 24, 2010, and jumped straight into training 12 days later.
"We didn't have trucks or equipment, but we had rucksacks," Jones said. "It's been nonstop. ... But we developed a culture through this."
Jones said he believes the hard work has paid off and his soldiers are ready for deployment.
"You always want more stuff and time and equipment, but I'm confident. I wake up knowing there's nothing more we could have done in the time we were given."
Contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.