CAMP BULLIS — It’s been a busy five months for the 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion, but soldiers are now without a doubt ready to deploy, said Lt. Col. Mark Johnson, battalion commander.
“This is the third month straight someone in the battalion has been away training,” he said at a training site at Camp Bullis, near San Antonio. “It’s a lot of time spent away from home, but when it’s all said and done, we’re ready.”
The battalion, part of the 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade at West Fort Hood, will deploy in late summer for nine months to Afghanistan to serve as part of Regional Command-South, under the 4th Infantry Division, of Fort Carson, Colo. Its sister battalion, the 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, will head downrange to Regional Command-East. Both units returned from a year in Afghanistan last summer.
The battalion began in January training soldiers first at the individual level, then working up to certify teams and companies. This month’s culminating event at Camp Bullis, a U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command training facility, certified the entire battalion.
About 460 of the brigade’s soldiers, including the entire 163rd plus elements of the brigade’s headquarters and troopers from its 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, spent about two weeks at Bullis, with a four-day training event that included Afghan role-players and actual scenarios the unit will face downrange.
“We’re becoming a well-oiled machine,” said battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Marc Roderick. “Camp Bullis has been a great opportunity for us to get away from the distractions of being at home.”
Having the cavalry squadron out helped train the soldiers on how to operate with the maneuver unit they will serve with downrange — especially for those multifunction teams, which go onto the battlefield with combat units to collect intelligence.
“Both elements are totally different,” said 2nd Lt. Sam Hamilton, a multifunctional team leader in the 163rd’s Bravo Company, after completing a scenario with a cavalry squadron platoon. “(Training) helps us understand how to work together instead of us jumping in and saying, ‘Hey, I’m here.’”
In Monday’s scenario, the two platoons visited an Afghan village — the cavalry troopers’ mission was to conduct a medical civic action program and the intelligence team gathered information about the village.
“We have to try and fit in and not hinder their mission,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Beck, Hamilton’s team sergeant. “If (maneuver elements) don’t feel safe with us, they’ll leave us on base.”
By talking to the villagers, Beck said the information can help paint an overall picture of the battlefield as well as determine a village’s feeling toward American soldiers.
“We get an understanding as to why they help the Taliban, or why they are not helping,” he said.
The challenge for the intelligence soldiers, is they don’t dictate a lot of the movement of the mission, Beck said. The combat arms soldiers have the lead, and determine how long and where the multifunction team can operate in the village.
“It’s a balance between the security we’re used to ... and what they’re doing with sources passing in and out,” said 1st Lt. Liam Scully-Wolfe, a platoon leader in 2nd Squadron. “Before every mission, we go through rehearsals and work our way up. We start with something as simple as how to walk into the village and the posture you should have.”
Johnson said these scenarios simulate what his soldiers will encounter in Afghanistan, including the distance and separation of the battalion’s companies and teams.
“The focus has really been on the battalion and mission-command pieces. We want to make sure everyone gets the information and that we are providing resources and equipment and personnel,” he said.
Camp Bullis provides for the military intelligence units, what a training center does for combat arms or maneuver units, said Col. Charles Hensley, brigade commander.
“They need to learn their systems; it’s just not a weapons system,” he said.
The other piece of the puzzle is taking information and sharing it with their higher headquarters in a way it is readable, accessible and in response to the commander’s requirements.
“We want to make sure they are interacting in the right way, using their skills in the right way,” Hensley said. “They’ve done very well.”
Hensley described the visit to Camp Bullis as multi-echelon training. While the primary focus was to prepare the 163rd for deployment, 2nd Squadron, the brigade staff and its support company also got quality training for a potential upcoming rotation in Kosovo next year.
All soldiers should return to Fort Hood by the end of the week.