CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, TALLIL, Iraq - After nearly two years of working to prepare Fort Lewis's battlefield surveillance brigade for operations in Iraq, Fort Hood's 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade cased its colors and transferred authority to the 201st BfSB in a ceremony here Oct. 28.
The transfer of authority ceremony marked the end of one deployment, the beginning of another and the continuation of a friendship formed between the two brigades.
Addressing the audience, Col. Bob Walters, commander of the outgoing 504th BfSB, thanked his Soldiers of Task Force Ready for their hard work and dedication in providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to brigade combat teams, three multi-national divisions and Multi-National Corps-Iraq.
He also took a moment to address the 201st BfSB, known as Task Force Vision, which is Fort Lewis's sixth and last brigade to deploy this year.
"Welcome to the rodeo," he said. "Thank you for your aggressive and proactive assimilation into the fight. The command sergeant major and I are confident the battlefield surveillance mission is in good hands."
That confidence has come from months of hands-on training with the 201st BfSB, as well as continued communication between the brigades even after the 504th BfSB had boots on ground.
"(They) allowed us to come to Texas, to watch (their) training, to examine (their) operations, to see the things that worked and the things that didn't," said Col. Robert Whalen Jr., commander of the 201st BfSB. "Even after (they) moved into a theater of operations, (they) answered our questions, offered us advice and kept us on the right track."
Whalen, a Springfield, Va., native, took command of the brigade when it was activated at Fort Lewis on July 3, 2008. Formally known as the 201st Military Intelligence Brigade, the 201st BfSB was activated as the third battlefield surveillance brigade in the Army.
"We were building our own brigade from scratch," Whalen said.
The 201st is the Army's third battlefield surveillance brigade. It oversees I Corps' only airborne unit- the 38th Long Range Surveillance Company.
The unit, which had 345 days to prepare for this deployment since being activated, is ready to meet their Iraqi counterparts, train them and prepare them to be fully-functional and independent once U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, Whalen said.
"It's incumbent to find out who our counterparts are so we can train them and give them the tools they need to operate when we leave," said 201st BfSB Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Thornton, command sergeant major of the 201st BfSB.
Thornton, a New Kingston, R.I., native, said one way the unit will be able to overcome future challenges is by establishing relationships with their Iraqi counterparts from the start of the deployment and continue to build those relationships throughout the next 12 months.
The 504th had recently relocated the brigade's headquarters to COB Adder but, in the six weeks since the move, the brigade continued establishing contacts and networking with Iraqis in the area. The contacts that have been made will prove beneficial to Whalen and his team.
"They did an extraordinary job preparing us to take over operations here. They developed relationships, which is an important part of Iraqi society," said Whalen. "Because of that, we are able to plunge right in from day one."
The mission is a continuation of the work the 504th BfSB did; The Iraqis will be in the lead, while the brigade's Soldiers operate in an advise and assist role.
For some combat veterans in the unit, this change will be different from previous deployments.
"The Soldiers who have deployed before need to recognize that it's not the same as the last time they were here. Learning what has changed is going to be essential for them," said Thornton.
Thornton said that he tells his first-time deployers that this will be an opportunity to realize the impact coalition presence has produced over the past six years.
"The junior Soldiers have a direct impact on our mission here because they are going out and working with our counterparts. We want them to know that they can have a strategic impact on the U.S. Army mission here regardless of their rank," said Thornton.
Junior and senior, officer and enlisted - all will contribute to the successes of the 201st BfSB mission in Iraq.
"Success will be a patient accumulation of things," Whalen said. "It will be seen in the professionalism of the Iraqi Security Forces as we pass on special skills to them, especially those from the long range surveillance company. When we leave, the Iraqis won't miss a beat. That's our goal."