Story and photo by Sgt. Brad Mincey
EL PASO, Texas — The South Carolina National Guard’s 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command spent several weeks in July at Fort Bliss, Texas, assessing and validating the 3rd Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery in preparation for their upcoming deployment to the National Capital Region.
The 263rd AAMDC served as the Training Certification Authority (CTA), which is one part of the 1st Army Validation process, said U.S. Army Col. Donnie Wilson, Culminating Training Event (CTE) Exercise Director. Much of the exercise consisted of crew drills and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP).
“Our role in these capacities was to ensure that the incoming air defense battalion was properly trained and able to accurately and efficiently demonstrate their ability to do the mission in the NCR,” said Wilson. “The Florida Army National Guard’s 3rd (Battalion) – 265th Air Defense Artillery (ADA) was the unit being evaluated for their rotation in the NCR.”
The mission of the AAMDC and ADA units is to protect an area from low flying, aerial threats. With a battery of radars and shoulder and vehicle-launched Stinger missiles at the ready, any area the units are deployed to can be protected from incidents like 9/11.
An essential part of the training is the live-fire exercise. During this final phase of certification, Soldiers have the opportunity to fire live Stinger missiles at small, remote controlled, aerial drones.
“This was my first chance to fire a Stinger,” said U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class James Williams, Battery C., 3rd Bn., 265th ADA. “It was a rush! Amazing. Just indescribable.”
The Stinger missiles can be fired from a shoulder-launched, Man-portable Air Defense System, (ManPADS) and a vehicle-mounted Avenger Missile System, which fires the Stinger missile from a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).
“Soldiers love this training,” said U.S. Army Capt. Shane DeMarco, 3rd Bn., 265th ADA, NCR Battery commander. “It is a great opportunity to prepare for the upcoming mission and fire some live rounds at live targets.”
In addition to providing training and certification of other units, the 263rd AAMDC could mobilize and provide Army Air and Missile Defense planning, and command and control (C2) for all missile defense forces deployed to the NCR or anywhere else in the continental U.S.
“In our current role in Homeland Defense, we train and certify both the C2 Task Force and ADA Battalion for the National Capital Region Integrated Air Defense System (NCR-IADS) that was emplaced around Washington, D.C. after the 9/11 attacks,” said Wilson. “This was done to provide freedom of action to our government and to safeguard the continuity of daily government operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
Every year, the 263rd AAMDC and other units pack up and head out to Fort Bliss to conduct these live-fire exercises prior to deployments and rotation to the NCR. Fort Bliss provides a perfect area to facilitate this training with already established billeting, dining facilities, as well as administrative and medical processing.
“We conduct the exercise here due to the excellent desert training areas that Fort Bliss provides on the McGregor Range facilities north of Fort Bliss that extend beyond Texas into New Mexico’s Tularosa Valley and the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR),” said Wilson. “This area provides us not only with ample protected airspace for our live-fly training during the CTE, but also with excellent live-fire range space for our live gunnery events (missiles only) with the Avenger/Stinger and the NASAMS (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System) weapons systems.”
In addition to the exceptional training facilities, Wilson added, the location also provides perfect weather for the training, and minimizes negative impacts and delays to training.
“The terrain here is challenging to operations,” Wilson said. “This range area and its environment really tests the Battalion’s leadership and Soldiers in terms of their ability to conduct the mission during sustained 24/7 operations. If they can conduct and perform their mission to standard here at Fort Bliss, they can certainly do so in the NCR. It requires consistent diligent leadership and performance at all levels in order to be successful as a battalion.”
In addition to the South Carolina and Florida National Guard units, the 1st Battalion, 188th ADA from North Dakota was also in the field firing live rounds. Although they are not the unit deploying to the NCR this rotation, they joined this training exercise in preparation for their future mission to the NCR.
“We have nine missiles, nine teams and a bunch of new Soldiers,” said U.S. Army1st Sgt. Kenneth Kachena, 1st Bn.-188th ADA first sergeant. “So this is an opportunity for us to get prepared for next year. We hope to take away a really clear picture of what the CTE is and how it works.”
Collaboration between the units from different states has been a key part of creating a cohesive training schedule and ensuring the most is received of the time they have together.
“The South Carolina Guard has given us excellent support,” said Kachena. “They have been quick to answer my emails and questions on the ground. They have been very receptive. They have even been giving us copies of their documents so we aren’t having to recreate the wheel.”
There are seven units capable of performing this mission, and several of those are in the National Guard, said DeMarco. “This will be our fourth time to the NCR, so we have some senior NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) who have been on this mission multiple times. We have a lot of experience that we are bringing with us.”
“Simply put, we have the most experience in performing this mission for Homeland Defense,” said Wilson. “Our officers, NCOs and enlisted Soldiers on this mission have gained significant subject matter expertise in not only performing our tasks and responsibilities – but in also performing these duties in the NCR as part of either the C2 TF or the battalion. In many cases a very good number of them have done both.”