WEST FORT HOOD — Brittany Kirkwood and her 2-year-old daughter, Bristol, sat in the West Fort Hood Physical Fitness Center on Wednesday decked out in red, white and blue and ready for their soldier to come home. Kirkwood was especially anxious to see how Bristol would react to her daddy — Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Kirkwood — after his nine-month deployment to Afghanistan with the 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. She hoped her daughter would recognize and remember him.
“More than half her life, he’s been deployed,” she said. “He missed all that baby stuff.”
This marks the soldier’s fourth deployment, the third for his wife and young Bristol’s second. Daily Skype sessions made this separation a little easier for the family. But still, Brittany Kirkwood said she worried.
“It’s hard knowing that the person you love, the father of your children … is in a place that’s terrifying — especially with everything going on with Iraq right now.”
Unfortunately, Skype was not an option for the Mathias family. Lindsey Mathias and her three children, James, 13, Gracie, 11, and Memphis, 5, were able to send messages on Facebook with Staff Sgt. Christopher Mathias but not much else.
“He got removed to a remote place so we had very limited contact,” Lindsey Mathias said. Their oldest son was diagnosed with autism during the deployment, making it all the more “long and exhausting.”
When asked if he was ready for his dad to come home, James deadpanned, “I’ve been ready for the past eight months.”
The 163rd provided ground intelligence for Regional Command South as well as assisted an Afghan battalion with training and mentoring.
“Predominately what we provide is force protection,” said Lt. Col. Mark Johnson, battalion commander, in a phone interview from Afghanistan in February. “We make sure we’re able to identify whatever those threats are against those U.S. and coalition forces. That’s our primary responsibility.”
Summing up the deployment at the ceremony, Johnson called it “fantastic.”
“Soldiers did great, we trained quite hard before the deployment, and they did everything they were supposed to do,” he said, adding soldiers were divided into small teams that operated throughout Southern Afghanistan.
Another success for the unit was helping with the April elections. Command Sgt. Maj. Marc Roderick said this aspect of the deployment was significant for him.
“The Afghan people had free elections and hopefully they’ll have the runoff elections and at the end of that, they’ll have a new president,” Roderick said. “It’s something we take for granted in the United States unless you go back in history and look at Gen. Washington — President Washington.”
He explained that after his second term ended, the American people wanted Washington as their leader for another four years but he insisted on stepping down so a new leader could be elected.
“Every four years we have an election and we get a new president or we don’t and everything’s peaceful,” he said.
The 163rd brought back all 135 soldiers who deployed late last summer. Roderick said he is pleased about that, though there is always concern.
“We always worry about (safety) because you just never know,” he said. “It is a combat zone … they give us guns and bullets for a reason.”