Story by Capt. Brian Hare and photos by Capt. Brian Hare
WASHINGTON – Consistent with the rotational basis for deployments that they’ve completed every few years since the attacks of 9/11, the South Carolina National Guard’s 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command (AAMDC) and its subordinate unit, the 2-263rd Air Defense Artillery (ADA) Battalion, were supporting on Patriot’s Day, Sept. 11, 2014. Both units, headquartered out of Anderson, S.C., are providing support as part of the Integrated Air Defense mission protecting our National Capital Region (NCR).
According to Lt. Col. Marion Collins, battalion commander for the 2-263rd ADA, this mission is just as important today as it was 13 years ago when the air defense system was first implemented immediately following the attacks.
“Professional Soldiers and Airmen defending the skies of the capital of the United States is the number one mission of today’s military,” said Collins. “Defending the homeland and particularly the capital is not only a privilege but also a mandate.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Russell Vickery, the command sergeant major of the 2-263rd ADA, commented on the importance of the mission as technological advances are continually integrated into the operation, but he also stressed the importance of the work ethic of the assigned Soldiers on the success of the mission.
“Once on mission here in the NCR they have conducted themselves as true Army professionals and have performed their jobs with a passion that only a true professional can,” said Vickery. “I’m so proud to be the command sergeant major of these Soldiers and consider it a privilege to be their senior enlisted leader.”
Both Collins and Vickery noted that part of their commemoration of the attacks during Patriot’s Day was to observe moments of respectful silence during each minute that the four crashes occurred, and that Soldiers would be supporting a number of special events that were scheduled to take place in the NCR. However, Collins added that the air defense mission of the 263rd ADA is conducted with the same level of vigilance on Sept. 11 as on every other day of their deployment.
“As you can imagine, there is a heightened level of alert on Sept. 11 and security measures are significantly increased,” said Collins. “But like any other day, our mission is air defense and we give 100 percent to our mission.”
Like a large number of the Soldiers that serve under them, Collins and Vickery are both residents of the upstate of South Carolina, and like many Americans, both of them also have vivid memories of where they were when they first learned of the attacks of 9/11.
“I happened to be home that day repairing an electric fence and came inside to get a glass of water when I saw images of the first tower burning,” said Vickery. “When I saw the second plane hit I knew our lives had been changed forever. We had supper as a family that night and that was the first time my sons had seen their dad cry.”
The current deployment of the 263rd AAMDC and the 2-263rd ADA is scheduled to continue into 2015.
“This mission is beyond anything I could have ever imagined,” said Collins. “I feel truly honored to be allowed to serve with this mission and these amazing Soldiers.”