Three hundred Fort Hood troops are off to Afghanistan to keep our Military and coalition forces one step ahead of the enemy.
They flew out before the sun came up Thursday morning, as the 1st Cavalry Division Band played for them on the flight line.
One by one, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Johnson shook soldiers' hands before they boarded the plane.
This is LTC Johnson's third tour in Afghanistan.
"Every time I go back, it's encouraging," he said.
The mission is two fold -- to protect our own and coalition forces and to assist and train the Afghan Army to protect its own.
"They've made great strides, and really now it's just about reinforcing, and giving them the training that they need to continue the mission when we're gone," said LTC Johnson.
It has been a long road to get here for the 303d and 163d Military Intelligence Battalions.
"Our soldiers have trained extremely hard over these last 12 months. We've got our leaders taking care of the soldiers, and we're ready to go," said Command Sergeant Major Warren Robinson with the 303D Military Intelligence Battalion.
It's Specialist Hector Velez's first deployment, and he says he's eager to take what he's learned as a teacher in Puerto Rico and apply it overseas.
"I've been able to watch some videos on how they train different people over there in Afghanistan, and I'm excited, I want to do it, I'm ready," Hector said.
For so many who have deployed before, going back to Afghanistan means seeing how far Afghan forces have come in taking over the fight.
Sergeant Kayla Orona-Cortes says, "I think it's pretty exciting to see the progress of how it's gone."
"They're taking more control every month that goes by. It's just hopeful and encouraging to see what they're doing," LTC Johnson said.
So these soldiers are keeping one eye on the enemy and the other on progress, and they'll teach their Afghan partners to do the same.
Reporter: Sophia Stamas firstname.lastname@example.org
Photographer: Chris Buford email@example.com