After a colors-casing ceremony last week, soldiers of the 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade began deploying to Kosovo over the weekend. About 400 of the 650 soldiers participating in the mission are on their way.
With multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Fort Hood’s smallest brigade cased its colors Jan. 8 at Ready Field for the new nine-month mission with the Multinational Battle Group-East’s mission of peace support operations in Kosovo. It’s the second active-duty unit to do so in more than a decade, taking over for 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade out of Fort Bragg, N.C.
Since the late 1990s war in Kosovo, the southeastern European country has dealt with ethnic strife between its Albanian and Serbian populations, as well as geographic pressures from neighboring countries, including Yugoslavia.
“It is stable and the relationships between the Kosovo Albanians and the Kosovo Serbs are pretty good,” said Col. Charles Hensley, brigade commander, describing the mission as “important and necessary.”
“We’re there really to reinforce the Kosovo police and the European law enforcement. We’re third responders,” he said.
Established in 1999, the NATO Force consists of about 7,500 troops, Hensley said. Other participating nations include Armenia, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine.
“Our challenge today is to continue the mission started in 1999 and carry it on to victory. Not so much for ourselves, but for the people of Kosovo and to honor the service and sacrifice of the tens of thousands of soldiers who have served before us setting the conditions of today’s mission,” Hensley said. “We dare not fail them and will carry the mission, if not to victory, than certainly a little closer to mission accomplishment.”
About 650 soldiers from the 504th’s headquarters and its long range reconnaissance unit, 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, will team up with National Guard soldiers from Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah, Iowa and Louisiana.
“It’s great to have them,” Hensley said. “The states have been very forthcoming in allowing the soldiers to come down and train with us. You meet people and form a team and they’ve been here for the training exercises and it’s just been a very positive experience.”
Soldiers will stop in Germany for additional training. Local troops prepared for the deployment for months, including riot control training.
“It’s really one of the main things we don’t normally do,” Hensley said. “(The cavalry squadron) is primarily focused on reconnaissance. They know how to look at things and tell if there’s been changes in the environment.
“In the stability operations environment that’s pretty important because the changes are a little more subtle than when your doing combat operations.”
Soldiers also trained in liaison monitoring teams, the colonel added.
“We would go out and interact with civilians. Young soldiers learned to go out and ask questions without making it seem like they’re interrogating someone. You’re just trying to find out information,” Hensley said.
The deployment will be a bit less lonely for Sgt. Keyon Martin, of the brigade’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company — his brother will be deploying with him. “It’s cool,” Martin said. “It’ll be easier having family around.”
His wife, TraShanta Martin, stood alongside him as he played with their 21-month-old son.
“The first deployment was hard, because I was pregnant and it was just me at Fort Bliss,” she said. This time, she feels better prepared. “It’ll be hard with (my son) not knowing what is going on, but we’ll be Skyping every day and sending packages.”
The Martin family has a special plan for a reunion post-deployment as well. “I’m going to have his whole family come in from Alabama,” TraShanta Martin said, to welcome the brothers home.