By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - One of the Army's most deployed units left Central Texas Thursday evening following a deployment ceremony at Abrams gym.
Nearly 140 soldiers with the 96th Transportation Company, 180th Transportation Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command said goodbye to friends and loved ones before boarding three white buses to Robert Gray Army Airfield, the first step of their yearlong mission to Afghanistan.
As one of only three heavy equipment transport units in the active-component Army, the company was called on for six deployments to Iraq before this one, each lasting six to 12 months.
Company soldiers haul the biggest equipment in the Army, such as Abrams tanks that can weigh up to 60 tons, and assisted in the early phase of the troop drawdown in Iraq.
Brig. Gen. Terence Hildner, the 13th Sustainment's commander, said the company would assist in the drawdown in Afghanistan during the next 12 months.
Some 26,000 troops are scheduled to leave the country by next summer, he said, along with their equipment.
The company spent a month this summer preparing for the deployment at California's National Training Center, drilling the kinds of convoys that Afghanistan's tight terrain and threat patterns - including roadside bombs and ambushes - necessitate, Hildner said.
The command's general officer will depart for Afghanistan in December with its Headquarters and Headquarters Company.
The 96th will begin its deployment attached to the 7th Sustainment Brigade of Fort Eustis, Va.
Col. Knowles Atchison, commander of the 4th Sustainment Brigade's "provisional," or garrison, element, who did not deploy, said the company will be split among several locations, including Bagram Airfield and in Kandahar province.
Company Commander Capt. Robert Cooksey said being geographically separate from some of his soldiers will pose certain challenges.
"I have to make sure everyone's taken care of properly and have the equipment they need," he said.
The deployment is Cooksey's third, and first to Afghanistan.
The year will be a "long one," but he said he was looking forward to it.
"It's an area I've never been to, with different types of challenges as to convoys and logistics."
Atchison called Cooksey a "seasoned combat veteran," but warned all troops to avoid complacency in theater.
"As they go, I say, 'Stay focused,'" he said. "Don't get complacent. The biggest danger in a deployment is when you're there for three months or so and start to feel comfortable."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.