The Herald checked in with Lt. Col. Samuel E. Fiol and Command Sgt. Maj. Kelly Robinson, command team of 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, downrange at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. The battalion deployed in September for a nine-month mission in Regional Command East.
The “Longhorn” Battalion is the most decorated military intelligence battalion in the U.S. Army. Over the past 12 years, the battalion has deployed five times. It previously participated in operations in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.
How would you describe the work soldiers have been able to do over the course of the deployment?
Our mission is to collect and conduct analysis on multiple forms of intelligence, specifically counterintelligence, human intelligence and signals intelligence, for the commander of Regional Command East. Like our sister battalion, the 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion, our primary task is to conduct intelligence operations in support of force protection, situation development and targeting, and we primarily do this using small unit team formations that consist of approximately three to five soldiers on each team. Our teams are spread out all over Regional Command East. During our unit’s deployment, our unit supported both the 101st Airborne Division and then the 10th Mountain Division (since February 2014). ... Our battalion also participated in the security force assistance mission by training Afghanistan National Security Forces, specifically, the Afghan National Army. During our tour, we have had two teams each partnered with two military intelligence kandaks (battalions) in two of the six Afghan National Army Corps. One of our teams is partnered with the 201st Afghan National Army Corps. This corps is nicknamed the Silab Corps (the Dari word for “flood” and means “to be washed away” and is used as a symbol of the strength and power that can be unleashed by a “flood”). The other team is partnered with the 203rd Afghan National Army Corps, nicknamed the “Thunder Corps” (“thunder” has long been a part of the Afghan folklore and legend).
Have there been any moments you have been especially proud of?
Our soldiers have achieved great success in support of Combined Joint Task Force-101 (101st Airborne Division) and Combined Joint Task Force-10 (10th Mountain Division). Specifically, they have collectively contributed to assisting the Afghan National Security Forces protect the Afghan population during their historic elections this past year on April 5. The 2014 elections were a defining event in the campaign and in Afghanistan’s history. We are extremely proud to have been able to contribute to this collective achievement. Additionally, the success of the Longhorns is directly attributed to individual and collective training and the disciplined initiative of our empowered subordinate leaders, starting with our company commanders and first sergeants down to our team leaders. Our soldiers have experienced some significant individual accomplishments, but at the heart of our collective support, it has been the strength of our small unit intelligence teams that has truly been at the lead of intelligence operations.
What challenges has the battalion faced downrange? How were they overcome?
Within the past four years (June 2011 through June 2014), this organization has been deployed for 21 months — 43 percent, or nearly half of the total time. One year was in Afghanistan from June 2011 to June 2012, and after a 15-month dwell again to Afghanistan from September 2013 to late Spring/early Summer time-frame. The training and preparation for the deployment and then the actual deployment leaves an indelible imprint upon families, marriages and children’s lives. Great credit is due to the spouses and the family readiness groups that make this separation period a positive and nurturing experience.
We are always mindful of the sacrifices of the spouses and children, and we cannot thank them enough for helping their soldiers through this period. Additionally, we credit leadership and individual resiliency as the factors that assist our unit in overcoming such challenges. Moreover, we have had two amazing chaplains, Capts. Stephen Doyle and now, Matthew Granahan, who joined us in early April, along with the chaplain’s assistant, Spc. Derek Hakman. Collectively, the unit ministry team’s job is to support resiliency efforts to sustain our soldiers and advise our command on matters of religion, morals, morale and their impact on military operations. Our (ministry team) has performed this task in an exemplary manner.
The battalion is on the downward slope of the deployment, what are you most looking forward to as you get ready to redeploy?
We believe we can speak for everyone when we say that everyone is looking forward to getting home to family and friends. We have had soldiers who missed the birth of their children, children’s birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, holidays and other major events. Our soldiers miss their families and friends and eagerly await the opportunity to be reunited with them.
Is there anything you specifically would like to let Central Texas know about the work of the battalion?
Be proud of your Longhorns Battalion, and we look forward to thanking the great organizations and businesses in Central Texas who have supported us throughout this deployment.
We’re looking forward to getting home and thanking them all in person.