Whooping and hollering greeted the roughly 200 soldiers from the 504th Military Intelligence Brigade as they walked into the West Fort Hood Gym Monday evening.
Family members and friends held up signs for their soldiers, ready to finally hold them again as they returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan. Elements of the brigade’s headquarters, the 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion and the 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion deployed in September 2017 in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel as the unit in charge of the Afghan theater land and air intelligence assets.
After a beautiful, acapella rendition of the national anthem by the brigade’s own Spc. Whitney Johnson, the “Always Ready” brigade command team, Col. Deitra Trotter and Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Baird, uncased the unit’s colors to signify that the brigade was home and ready to serve the needs of Fort Hood.
“Stand tall, and be proud of all that you accomplished,” said Deitra Trotter to the troops. “More than 8,000 human and counterintelligence reports. More than 20,000 signals intelligence reports. Mission command of over 68,000 ground and aerial (intelligence support requests) and over 18,000 (counter intelligence) screenings. Support of over 900 (Security Force Assistance Brigade and train, advise and assist outside the wire operations, 30 combat action badges and two Purple Hearts. The awards and accolades are still coming, but it’s critical that each of you understands that you made a difference.”
The commander said she knew the only thing standing betweeen the families and soldiers getting together was herself, so she kept her comments brief before releasing the troops.
“At the operational level, your intelligence collection closed knowledge gaps, facilitated planning for Afghan, Coalition and U.S. commanders ... in making decisions,” she said. “Believe me when I tell you, we made a difference. You never faltered. You flexed, you grew in an ever-evolving theater, contributing to ... the legacy of this brigade.”
Trotter went on to commend the families of the soldiers, letting them know the soldiers could not have completed their mission without their support.
“Thank you. We know we are not the only ones who have sacrificed,” said the single mother, whose son was 8 on her first combat deployment and is now 23. “This does not get any easier. So please know we soldiers are extremely grateful for the love and support you give during separations. Every single one of us missed every single one of you. We counted down to today.”
For one father waiting on his daughter to get home, it was all about seeing his baby girl after her first deployment.
“She can definitely handle herself,” Denny Daugherty said of his daughter, 1st Lt. Daniel Tinnel. “I’m excited and just wanting to hug her.”
Tinnel was just happy to be home, she said.
“It feels amazing — words can’t describe how happy I am to be home and to see my dad,” she said.
Even some of the single soldiers had people waiting to welcome them home. Ben and Melody Bloker, with Cadence International ministries, run the Soldiers Hospitality House in Killeen where many single soldiers — to include some from the 504th — go for fellowship and camaraderie.
“We build relationships with these guys and gals when they show up, so we try to always be there for them, welcome them back and cheer them on,” Ben said. “I was active-duty military for 24 (years, Air Force), and was mentored in this ministry. So I was a recipient of that in the military, and when I got out, I decided to be a part of Cadence.”
Ben added that the ministry group keeps the names of their deployed troops on a board at the Soldiers Hospitality House, and will hold an official “homecoming” at their next get-together to officially erase the names off the board.
The 504th troops will now undergo reintegration processing and spend some time with family and friends prior to ramping back up for their next deployment.
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