News: 'Strike Fear' soldiers complete their mission readiness exercise
FORT SILL, Okla. – The soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), conducted a mission readiness exercise from Dec. 4-17, at the Thompson Hill training complex in Fort Sill, Okla.
The training, which was the first time a battalion-sized unit incorporated all of its digital systems at the training complex, prepared the battalion for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The MRE was a full dress rehearsal that prepared the unit for a counter rocket, artillery and mortar mission to intercept enemy indirect fire attacks, which currently poses one of the most significant threats to military operations in Afghanistan. The C-RAM tracks incoming IDF, warns soldiers so that they can take cover, and ultimately intercepts it with the 20 mm rounds from the Land-Based Phalanx Weapon System. It will be a welcome addition in theater due to its life-saving mission of “sense, warn, and intercept.”
It takes teams of well-trained soldiers with different skill sets to enable successful intercepts.
Gun crews from Battery A have the laborious task of loading and unloading the weapon’s ammunition that can total up to 750 pounds per gun. Additionally, these crews must be experts on the operations and maintenance of the LPWS, which requires each gun platoon member to spend months training on every intricate detail of the system to ensure that they are able to keep the weapon system prepared to fight.
“I love that I have the ability to work on reloading the system and getting my hands dirty because I know that my hard work and expertise was vital to the mission when I hear that 20 mm cannon go off,” said Spc. Oscar E. Mendoza, gun crew team leader.
The Engagement Operations Cell is the control center for all C-RAM systems and engagements. It controls and directs the intercepts.
“These crews will save lives … we have awe-inspiring camaraderie, that pushes the members of this team through long hours of work,” declared a confident Spc. Jamie Cyr, an EOC Forward Area Air Defense System operator. “I look forward to deploying with this unit.”
Battery C had a crucial part in this portion of the training. It managed the information flow from not only the battalion’s radars during interception events, but it also provided information from simulated IDF attacks at other locations during the exercise.
“Our role is one of an information hub between non 2-44 ADA controlled radar sites and our 2-44 ADA battalion TAC,” said 1st Sgt. Jason Peifer, Battery C’s top enlisted soldier, as he explained the battery’s role during the training exercises. “We ensure our battalion has an operating picture of not only our internal assets but all assets in theater to build a better air defense operating picture.
The MRE consisted of four phases – system validation, command post operations, live fire and the final all-inclusive exercise. However, after completing the system validation, the command post training and live fire blended together. This maximized training time and resulted in realistic training with multiple events and requirements executed with authentic stressors and conditions.
During the system validation phase, the soldiers focused on initial set-up of their equipment. The command post operations had soldiers training to produce, track and report accurate information. Then they ensured the data flowed evenly between all battalion elements.
“Understanding what needs to be done isn’t the same as knowing how to execute it,” stated Staff Sgt. Bobby Cruz, an air defense battle management system operator. “Command post's operations help us better to refine our battle drills and SOPs, allowing us to identity what works and what needs to be altered.”
This training provided an opportunity to rehearse the routines and processes necessary for the unit to succeed down range.
The live-fire exercise and final all-inclusive exercise allowed each part of battalion to execute their individual missions in real-time despite the harsh conditions from training in the winter at Fort Sill. The soldiers came together, each accomplishing their individual tasks that made the unit successful as a whole during the training.
“The live fire was spectacular; each engagement was outstanding,” said Pfc. Stanley Lyles, a gun crew operator. He added that he was excited to be in the midst of the action doing the hard work needed to load and maintain the guns.
Pfc. Aaron Nash, another member of the gun crew echoed that sentiment.
“We got to see the gun fire,” he said. “It builds confidence in the system. Everyone is really motivated.”
During the MRE, the trainers at Fort Sill added complexity to the training in a variety of ways to keep it both realistic and challenging.
Soldiers had to correct deficiencies in their systems, react to simulated Red Cross messages, and fight through the loss of key personnel that trainers removed during the scenarios.
“At one point, we had two of our specialists running the EOC, due to the trainers taking the battle captain and noncommissioned officer out of the scenario,” stated 2nd Lt. Evan Greco, one of the EOC battle captains. “That did not negatively impact our ability to fight though, because we cross-trained all of our personnel to do each others’ jobs as well as the primary operator.”
After wrapping up the MRE, the soldiers will take the lessons learned during their training and continue to improve upon their success. Working with a weapon system that has already proven its worth in both Iraq and Afghanistan, by intercepting IDF, saving lives, and protecting valuable equipment, soldiers left Fort Sill with the training discipline needed to succeed.
The true tradition for this great battalion is always accomplishing their mission and carrying on the legacy of success and overcoming adversity. Every soldier understands the significance that even a single gun system can bring to the fight. They know about the impact the battalion has already made in Afghanistan with the currently deployed soldiers of Battery B providing C-RAM protection to coalition forces. The battalion is ready to deploy and start intercepting enemy rounds.
“I know what I do plays a vital role in allowing others to sleep a little more soundly at night,” said Pfc. Berry George Jr., a gun crew operator, speaking about the battalion’s upcoming mission.