Protecting the skies over Basra
Pfc. Dustin Clark, a counter-rocket, artillery and mortar systems operator, calibrates the sights on a radar system in Basra, Iraq. Clark and fellow C-RAM Soldiers constantly monitor the skies over Basra in search of indirect fire attacks.

BASRA, Iraq (Army News Service, July 14, 2009) -- Pfc. Dustin Clark was manning the night shift when suddenly the warning system went off... beep, beep, beep.

For six months, Clark, a counter-rocket, artillery and mortar, or C-RAM systems operator, watched the skies above Basra for indirect fire attacks. His shifts were always silent, but tonight the system was alerting him to rockets flying toward the Basra base.

Within seconds he acquired the projectiles and tracked them. After sounding the general alarm for the Soldiers throughout the base, he turned to his peers and alerted them to the incoming rounds.

This was no drill. Clark, and other C-RAM systems operators are the Soldiers who provide 24-hour coverage against mortars and rockets across Multi-National Division-South.

"We man the duties of watching the skies here," said Staff Sgt. Queston Newell, a section sergeant. "The bad guys shoot their weapons at us. We use our equipment to see them shooting at us. And then we tell people they're shooting at us using an alarm.

"It's a two-fold mission," added Newell. "We actually sense that the round is coming. We know where it's going to land, and where it came from. Of course, our priority is to protect our Soldiers, but the second part is very important; to find the guys who are doing the firing. We're very accurate."

Much of a C-RAM Soldier's day is spent either monitoring against hostile activity or maintaining and calibrating their equipment.

"The maintenance is the biggest part. We have to test speakers pretty regularly," said Newell. "We have to make sure everyone can hear the speakers. We have to maintain our radar equipment and make sure it's calibrated correctly."

While the hours may be long, the C-RAM Soldiers take their mission to heart, Newell said.

"They know people's lives depend on them. Without them, people would have to wear their full battle rattle armor all the time," Newell said. "We allow them to relax a little, enjoy some volleyball and football. This team gives people in Basra peace of mind knowing we're protecting them from (in-direct fire) attacks."

It's this kind of commitment that allowed Clark to make the calls he did the night the rockets came in. After sounding the alarm, Clark stood by and tracked the projectiles before and after impact.

"If our alarm saves only one life, then we have succeeded in our mission," said Newell.

Page last updated Tue July 14th, 2009 at 16:46