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    Senior air defense Soldiers stress crews during evaluations

    Senior air defense Soldiers stress crews during evaluations

    Photo By Sgt. Brandon Banzhaf | 1st Lt. Sarah Renforth, an Alexandria, Alabama native and battle captain for the...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Brandon Banzhaf 

    69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade

    SOUTHWEST ASIA – In a hardened tent with an almost endless display of monitors, maps and heads up displays, a team of specialists, a sergeant and a lieutenant run their battalion’s operations.

    As the sun disappears from the horizon, they settle into their shift. They perform their preventative maintenance checks, send up reports, but more importantly, watch the wall of monitors for red blips – airborne threats.

    Suddenly, three familiar faces walk in to the operations center. Though the crew recognizes the guests, they know that the next five to six hours are going to be tough – It’s time for an evaluation.

    “What I try to do is come up with ways for them to think about on how to stream line their procedures and make them better,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joseph Brock, a Demopolis, Alabama native and standardization chief for the 69th Air Defense Artillery “Top Notch” Brigade. “The end state is to improve upon the proficiency and knowledge of all air and missile defense crews.”

    Brock, who has been an air defender for over 15 years, started as a tactical control officer and became the subject matter expert for all things air defense.

    It is his job, along with his team of noncommissioned officers, to travel to all of the Top Notch’s subordinate units to evaluate and consequentially, train and mentor all of the air defense Soldiers.

    “I look at it as a big responsibility,” said Brock. “To me, it’s a humbling experience. I’ve been taught so much and now I have the opportunity to teach and mentor others.”

    In nine months, the standardization team performed 150 evaluations spanning across five different countries. The materials on which the evaluations are based off of are mostly the same, with a few important differences.

    “We have a standard format on how we do it, but each location has a unique situation and unique environment,” said Brock. “So we cater our evaluations to the actual operating environment.”

    Day or night, the standardization crews evaluate. No crew is safe from their attention to detail and strict adherence to the grading rubric.

    Upon entering the tactical operation center Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Davis, an Athens, Alabama native and standardization NCO, goes to work with the maintenance Soldier to ensure all of the equipment logs are accurate. The smallest detail could cost the crew much needed points and resulting in a “No Go” on the evaluation.

    The pair then walks outside to check every piece of equipment and ensure that every fault is annotated. He crawls under, climbs on top of and inspects compartments of the vehicles and equipment, checking boxes or scribbling notes onto his notebook.

    As Davis meticulously inspects the unit’s maintenance program, Staff Sgt. Christopher Temple, a Minneapolis, Minnesota native and standardization NCO, observes the crew as they operate in the TOC. Occasionally, he will ask some situational questions to see if a crewmember completely understands their responsibilities – until a simulated threat is displayed on the screens.

    “Fireball, Fireball, Fireball,” yells Spc. Robert Dixon, a Statesville, North Carolina native, and, tactical planner and early warning specialist.

    His crewmembers repeat it back as a confirmation they heard the alert. Their digital map updates with enemy missiles and aircraft. The Soldiers react accordingly.

    Instinctively, half of the crew dons their gas masks and protective gloves as the other half remains focused on the battle and calling out updates. Then they switch roles so the whole team can get into their proper chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear protective gear. A pair of eyes always remain on the continuous battle updates.

    “This is part of the procedures that if tactical ballistic missiles are assessed to have chemical agents, it’s possible that there will be fallout so they don their chemical gear,” said Brock.

    The testing Soldiers have to remain focused now more than ever because their words are muffled by their masks and their gloves can cause inaccuracy in their communications. An evaluator stands behind the crew, taking notes as he observes.

    Outside and isolated in the engagement control station, Brock watches a Soldier coordinate and communicate with the fire units. This Soldier directs who is to fire at what.

    When the last fire command is given and the red blips disappear, the situational based test comes to an end.

    “You feel nothing but relief because at the end of the day when it’s all said and done, you just want to do well and have it reflect positively upon your unit,” said Dixon. “When you are done and you get a “Go,” you’re just happy — relieved.”

    Then, the Standardization team would come together, tally up their points and call the crew over to discuss the results.

    “We conduct [after action reviews] to help give feedback, to point out things we noticed,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Temple, a Minneapolis, Minnesota native, and, an evaluator. “The important part of the AAR is to have a two-way conversation. It’s about building them as crews so they can conduct their mission and become better.”

    The evaluators leave and the Soldiers sigh with relief. The crew spends the rest of their shift reviewing their performance and remaining ready for a red blip to appear, because this time, it might not be simulated.

    “Some of the challenges you may experience are unexpected mishaps or equipment malfunctions, little things like that, but you have to stay calm, troubleshoot and get it working properly so you can continue on with the mission,” said Dixon. “It’s very important for us to be certified because it proves to our assets that they can rely on us. That we can do our job and if anything ever goes south, we have their backs.”



    Date Taken: 02.02.2017
    Date Posted: 02.02.2017 12:42
    Story ID: 222304
    Hometown: DEMOPOLIS, AL, US
    Hometown: MINNEAPOLIS, MN, US
    Hometown: STATESVILLE, NC, US

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