JC Jones

Herald reporter JC Jones is seen in a snowy South Korea on Feb. 26, 2016.

I had the opportunity to travel last week to South Korea with Fort Hood’s 1st Cavalry Division.

I flew over with soldiers from the 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, who were preparing to begin a nine-month rotational deployment, following the end of a rotation by the 2nd “Black Jack” Brigade Combat Team.

Once on the ground, I got a first-hand look at what was ahead for Ironhorse soldiers.

On my first morning at Camp Casey, South Korea, I woke up early in the barracks where I and other embedded journalists from Central Texas stayed for the week. We headed out to one of the motor pools at about 5 a.m., where Ironhorse soldiers had been training for about three hours already.

The cold temperatures, which hovered below freezing throughout the day, didn’t seem to bother the troopers, who were participating in a brigade-wide emergency deployment readiness exercise. The drill basically tested their ability to be prepared to fight at a moment’s notice.

Later that morning, snowflakes began falling, and still, soldiers kept training.

As a military reporter covering Fort Hood units, I’d heard about the training these soldiers were doing back home to prepare for the coming rotation.

I’d talked with the 1st Brigade commander, Col. John DiGiambattista, about the brigade’s trip to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., last year.

But to see up close what all the training was preparing these troopers for, was truly inspiring.

The North Korean border is less than 15 miles from where Ironhorse soldiers will spend the next nine months, and the threat is very real.

These soldiers will not only hear reports of aggression from the North Korean government from the nightly news, they will live within the shadow of their neighbor’s unstable government.

Though they have families and loved ones, these brave men and women have risked everything to train tirelessly, in the cold, in the middle of the night, and far from all of the comforts of home.

It will be a long and challenging nine months, with a fast and constant pace, but I also had a chance to see the light that’s at the end of the tunnel for Ironhorse.

On Saturday, I made my way back toward Fort Hood with a couple hundred Black Jack soldiers on the tail end of their own nine-month mission in North Korea.

Many of these troopers attested to the difficulty of the rotation, but in those final hours on the plane back home, they were all smiles, eager with excitement to return to their loved ones.

I look forward to welcoming back 1st Brigade soldiers nine months from now, and hearing stories of their successful mission, too.

Until then, best of luck, Ironhorse. Your Central Texas community is grateful for your service.

JC Jones is a reporter for the Fort Hood Herald and Killeen Daily Herald. She covers military and health news. Contact her at jcjones@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7464.

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