The mission in Afghanistan is going “very well” for the soldiers of the 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, said its commander.
Five months into a nine-month deployment to Regional Command South, Lt. Col. Mark Johnson said, “Teams are well integrated and they are definitely fully engaged.”
The battalion deployed more than 200 soldiers in August — just 13 months after returning from the same area — to be the sole unit providing ground intelligence for the region and work with the 4th Infantry Division. About a third of the battalion’s soldiers were returning to Afghanistan from that previous mission.
“We are providing intelligence every day,” Johnson said during a phone interview from Kandahar Air Field on Tuesday morning. “Predominately what we provide is force protection. ... We make sure we’re able to identify whatever those threats are against those U.S. and coalition forces. That’s our primary responsibility.”
This includes any security threats to the bases where service members live and work, as well outside the wire to allow for safe movement.
The battalion’s multifunction teams, which are designed to embed with combat units, are actually working to support targeting, Johnson said.
“What little targeting we do is in support of Afghan security forces, so they assist with that,” he said. “Again, it’s all about force protection.”
Johnson credits the ease at which his battalion stepped into the mission with the training soldiers received beforehand — including two rotations at Camp Bullis, near San Antonio, field training at Fort Hood and trips to work with the units they are currently deployed with in Germany and at Fort Carson, Colo.
“We trained a long time for this mission and we spent a lot of time in the field just making sure we were prepared to operate in this environment and it paid off. Soldiers didn’t have too much difficulty adjusting,” he said.
Assisting the Afghans also is part of the unit’s work, Johnson said.
One unforeseen aspect of the mission the battalion has taken on is mentoring an Afghan military intelligence unit under the 205th Corps.
“They’re pretty good,” Johnson said of the Afghan soldiers. “The military intelligence battalion is fairly new.”
Only a couple of years old, the Afghan battalion is training and gathering necessary personnel and equipment.
“When it comes to how to operate ... they’re very good at it.”
Johnson, who’s on his fourth deployment to the country, said he’s impressed with progress he’s seen in the Afghan National Security Forces — especially as he watches them take the lead on securing the upcoming elections.
“The elections are coming up and they seem pretty well prepared for that and that’s good,” he said. “The Afghans are definitely in the lead and they’re doing a pretty good job with that. All indications are that that’s going to go very well. From the security aspect of it, they’ve made a lot of progress.
“We help them as needed when they have different requirements, but for the most part they have it and they’re pretty good at it to be quite honest with you,” he added.
In their downtime, soldiers stay in contact with their families online.
“We really appreciate all the support we’ve been getting from the Fort Hood community,” Johnson said. “Just maintaining contact and making sure families are taken care of. That makes it easier for us to focus on the mission.”