By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
WEST FORT HOOD — With the familiar sounds of airplanes taking off in the background, the 15th Military Intelligence Battalion uncased its colors Friday during a long-awaited ceremony at Robert Gray Army Airfield.
Unlike most Army units, the aerial exploitation battalion has had some of its troops in Iraq since 2007 and at least one-third deployed there since June 2009, the last time the colors were cased.
Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Eisenmann, who helped roll up the colors two years ago, said it felt “tremendous” to see them finally unfurled again at Fort Hood, signaling the successful completion of the deployment.
“There was never a time after we left that we were all together,” he said. “Now all our soldiers, for the most part, are back under one roof.”
Most of the battalion’s 240 soldiers returned from Iraq in December, and its RC-12 observation aircraft landed at Fort Hood from their flight back from theater in January. A handful of soldiers remain deployed to Afghanistan, assisting the long-standing aviation Task Force ODIN with unmanned aerial surveillance and reconnaissance.
Lt. Col. James Geiser, who assumed command of the battalion in 2010, said he was proud of his troops’ performance during the deployment, deeming it a “total success.”
“And it didn’t just happen,” he said. “There was a lot of hard work, dedication and commitment across the ‘Nighthawks” ranks.”
During operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn, soldiers worked to develop signal intelligence from manned RC-12 airplanes and imagery intelligence from MQ-5B Hunter unmanned aerial systems, logging more than 1,000 flight hours each month. In between their six-month tours to Iraq, stateside Nighthawks helped process the intelligence back at home, up to seven days a week.
Although much of the battalion’s work was classified, Geiser said troops remained motivated by hearing feedback on the intelligence they produced and how it contributed to the larger fight. The 15th functioned as a theater-level asset, releasing information to U.S. forces throughout Iraq from its seat at Joint Base Balad.
The battalion, one of only four of its kind in the Army, is part of the 500th Military Intelligence Brigade, headquartered at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Brigade commander Col. Patricia Frost attended the uncasing to welcome home what she called the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command’s “premier” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset, deploying on a cycle more typical of the Army’s Special Operations Command than its more traditional Forces Command.
The colonel also alerted troops to their next mission: the Pacific Rim, where they’ll partner with allies including Malaysia, Japan and Australia to develop their aerial intelligence-gathering capabilities.
But the battalion has about two months before it begins preparing for that mission, and the rest period began with a formal social event that evening.
“It’s our first dining out in five years,” Geiser said.