69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade readies to deploy

Hood Herald/MARIANNE LIJEWSKI - Sgt. Paul Williams hugs his niece, Eries Vargas, 5, goodbye during the 4th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade’s deployment ceremony Monday at Fort Hood. - - -

By Rose L. Thayer

Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD - Despite the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army's air defense assets will get little reprieve from deployments due to their unique skill sets, a deploying lieutenant colonel said Monday.

"Despite the fact that the rest of the Army is in a drawdown, the air defense community is becoming a lot busier," Lt. Col. William J. McKnight, commander of the 4th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, said at the West Fort Hood gym during a deployment ceremony. "The dynamics are changing."

The battalion left Monday for a deployment to Southwest Asia. Its exact

destination and location are unclear, but McKnight said his soldiers will defend strategic assets from possible threats originating from state and non-state actors.

During the ceremony at West Fort Hood, colors were cased and about 400 soldiers left for a yearlong deployment to various locations in the region. They will replace another battalion from within the brigade - 1st Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, which will return to Fort Hood later this month.

Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Coleman said soldiers prepared for deployment by training in core competency skills, as well as basic soldier skills and gunnery certification.

"They are ready," he said. "They are motivated, trained and well equipped."

Ready or not, saying goodbye wasn't easy for soldiers or family members.

"We've just tried to spend as much time together as possible," unit spouse Christina Williams said about preparing for the deployment.

As a surprise, Williams hosted a Thanksgiving meal on Saturday and invited all of her husband's friends over to eat.

"It was really good," Sgt. Paul Williams said, while holding his 5-month-old daughter. "It was good hanging with family and friends before I go - and getting to enjoy the turkey and dressing."

Single soldier Spc. Scott Morris said he wanted a final stateside meal of McDonald's and homemade brownies, which members of his religious group, the pagan Fort Hood Open Circle, were more than happy to provide.

"I'm a veteran, so it's very important for us to support the soldiers we know," said Laura C. Plautz, who "adopted" Morris for the duration of his deployment. She said she plans to send him care packages and offer support whenever needed.

"When I was a soldier, there weren't a whole lot of people looking out for me," said Plautz. "It's important to make friends and find some people that actually care about you."

Contact Rose L. Thayer at rthayer@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

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