To prepare for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, the 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion conducted team certification training at Camp Bullis.
For 30 days, the “Blue Watch” battalion worked at the training site near San Antonio on its mission-essential tasks to ensure soldiers and teams were fully qualified in their intelligence collection tasks, said Lt. Col. Mark Johnson, battalion commander. More than 20 teams were certified.
“The amount of training we accomplished was pretty significant,” he said.
The battalion, which falls under the 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, is scheduled to deploy to Regional Command-South sometime this summer and began training for the mission at the beginning of the year.
“The training was outstanding,” said Staff Sgt. Jesus Quintana, part of a multifunctional team in Charlie Company. “It put us in real life situations.”
He said the same tasks they conducted at Bullis will be the same scenarios that could play out downrange.
There are three types of teams in Blue Watch that gather intelligence in different ways — signal and human intelligence teams and then multifunctional teams, which incorporate both. Each attaches to other units to serve “as the eyes and ears of maneuver elements,” Johnson said.
Many teams have new soldiers and leadership since the battalion’s previous deployment to Afghanistan, which ended July 2012, so everyone is learning how to work with each other for the first time.
“Being brand new, going out to the field helped build relationships and trust with the people I’m deploying with,” said Spc. Shannon Klacynski, a member of Quintana’s team. “I’m 110 percent more confident (about deploying), especially just knowing the team now.”
Aside from team building and certification, Blue Watch soldiers also got a chance at Bullis to work on their basic soldier skills, conducting live fire exercises, convoy live fire, stress shoots, a tactical road march and foot insertion. They also conducted night operations, something not done at Bullis before, Johnson said.
While knowing their intelligence job and equipment is a top priority, these skills are also very important, he said.
Once downrange, the battalion will be attached to and provide intelligence support to the 4th Infantry Division and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, so Bravo Company, from the 504th’s 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, provided maneuver elements.
“I think the interactions with the maneuver elements were really a success,” Johnson said. “The soldiers ability to adapt and be flexible, that was key.”
Chief Warrant Officer-2 Michael Tripp, a platoon leader in Bravo Company, said it wasn’t just the training that was beneficial, it was the environment as well.
“Everything there was about as true to real life as can be expected,” he said. “Not just the training, but the living environment. ... It’s the ability to just get away from garrison life.”
No one is worried about their evening plans, or their grocery lists; everyone is there to train.
Sgt. Luke Gronininger, a team leader in Bravo Company, said the training gave his soldier the confidence they need to feel comfortable going downrange and to trust each other.
“That was really important for the team level. It’s really everybody coming together as a military family out there.”
From here, the battalion’s companies will conduct their own certification training, with Alpha traveling to Germany to work with 2nd Cavalry Regiment and Headquarters and Headquarters Company traveling to Fort Carson, Colo., to meet with 4th Infantry Division. Then in May, everyone will come together again for battalion-level certification at Camp Bullis.