WEST FORT HOOD — After multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Fort Hood’s smallest brigade cased its colors and stood ready Wednesday to deploy to a new country with a new nine-month mission.
The 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade will soon join 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.
To mark its official leave from Fort Hood, the brigade’s command team cased its colors during a chilly ceremony Wednesday morning at Ready Field.
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.
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.
Some soldiers will deploy as early as this weekend with a 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.
Capt. Christopher Robertson, commander of the brigade’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, said the training was very different than his last two deployments. He returned from Afghanistan 10 months ago.
“You don’t really have an enemy focus,” he said. “It’s a secure environment. ... It’s permissive for us to move around. I’ve seen pictures, and Kosovo is a beautiful country. I look forward to seeing it in person.”
Meanwhile, Robertson’s wife, Erica, will be back at Fort Hood caring for the couple’s 22-month-old daughter.
With deployments, she said, “I take it one day at a time.”