FORT HOOD — The 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, fresh from a deployment in Afghanistan, has a new commander.
Col. Charles T. Hensley took command of the brigade — a mix of intelligence and communication units, cavalry and airborne troops, drone aircraft and even a few Army Rangers — during a ceremony in front of III Corps Headquarters Friday.
“Any time you get to lead soldiers, it’s a great opportunity,” said Hensley, following the morning ceremony.
The 45-year-old West Point grad replaces outgoing brigade commander Col. Gary Johnston, who was praised by Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr. for reorganizing the brigade into a “template” for a battlefield surveillance brigade in the modern Army and successfully leading the unit in Afghanistan.
The brigade, which has more than 3,500 soldiers, returned in June from a yearlong deployment to the war-torn country.
Johnston said the brigade performed extremely well in Afghanistan, capturing enemy leaders, explosives and drugs. He said his three years of the unit were a blur, combined with a few marathons.
“I loved every minute of it,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot together. We left it on the field. And we had fun.” Dozens of soldiers shook hands with Johnston following the ceremony.
Ditto for Hensley, who began his Army career as an infantry platoon leader at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1988. Since then, he has had a variety of assignments, from California to Germany, including being a company commander at Fort Hood in the 1990s.
Hensley said he is honored to take the reins of the brigade, which is responsible for conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations for III Corps or other large units.
With the brigade’s soldiers fresh from deployment and block leave, Hensley said the next few months will be a chance to reassess how soldiers are doing, examining what equipment needs to be replaced and other tasks.
“We’re going through the reset process,” he said.
In his speech to the brigade, Hensley outlined three goals — maintain the brigade’s successful reputation, reset the unit’s combat readiness capabilities and “have fun” doing it.
Hensley, a native of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and his wife, Nikki, have three daughters: Katy, 12, Elly, 9, and Maggy, 5.
The 504th, which traces its roots back to World War II, deployed to Iraq twice in the past 10 years. Its headquarters is at West Fort Hood, and the unit has been under the command of III Corps since 1985.