ROUND ROCK, Texas - A safe return home from a combat zone would be a milestone for any military unit, as would be changing of command or adopting a new mission and designation. For the soldiers of the Texas National Guard’s 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, all three objectives came to fruition in a single ceremony, held Sept. 8, 2013, at the Round Rock Armed Forces Reserve Center.
The brigade returned home from its deployment to Afghanistan on June 10, but officially uncased their unit colors in September to coincide with commanding general Brig. Gen. Bill Hall relinquishing command to Col. Lee Schnell.
This change of command further signified the 136th MEB assuming control of the National Guard Bureau-directed Homeland Response Force mission and merging with its sister unit, Joint Task Force 71, to form the Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade).
“[Their] motto of stand strong is the perfect description of what these soldiers have done over the last year,” said Col. Lee Schnell, commander of JTF-136 (MEB). “They stood strong and they were all in. Now this unit is being asked to continue to not only stand strong, but to stand ready. Stand ready to protect our state and our nation.”
While in Afghanistan, the MEB’s missions included base operations systems-integrator, mentoring the Afghan Uniform Police force in security procedures, and relinquishing local authority to Afghan officials throughout their area of coverage.
“As company commander, I had soldiers at eight different bases around the capital,” said Capt. Joanna Wollenberg, commander of the brigade headquarters company. “It was a unique experience having soldiers scattered and keeping control of them and making sure that they’re supported.”
Since returning to Texas in June, family and home life have been the top priorities for these Guardsmen, who were away for a year, with nine months of that time overseas.
“I’ve spent the summer with my kids, sent my daughter back to school, took a trip with my son,” said Sgt. Danesh Chowritmootoo, a finance NCO with headquarters company. "Those are the things that you miss - that you kind of look forward to.”
For Capt. Wollenberg, being back for her daughter’s 6th birthday was the most anticipated occasion surrounding the homecoming.
“Coming home was the sweetest thing, and seeing her and being able to spend time with her and seeing how big she has gotten while I was gone,” Wollenberg said.
As these veterans continue to transition back into their home lives, they look toward the next challenge within the Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.
“Just like any military organization,” said Schnell, “they have a new mission: the Homeland Response Force mission. We’re the Homeland Response Force for FEMA Region VI.”
The JTF-136 (MEB) will certify in March at Camp Gruber, Okla., to conduct this vital support mission, which aligns National Guard efforts with civilian first responders in the event of a natural disaster or man-made emergency.