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Pfc. Shawn Bandy, a gunner with B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, and Spc. Arturo Gonzalez, a team chief with B Battery, load .50-caliber ammunition during a crew drill, April 3, 2012, during their battalion's best Stinger competition at Fort Campbell, Ky.

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (April 19, 2012) -- This summer, 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment is slated to send some of their Soldiers to conduct a live-fire with a Stinger missile. The Avenger gun truck crews of 2-44th ADA are competing for those limited chances to shoot a live missile.

The battalion tested the crews on their air defense knowledge and execution by holding a Best Stinger Competition Apr. 2-6.

The events test them physically and technically. The Soldiers started with a physical fitness test followed by crew drills. They were also tested on their Visual Aircraft Recognition, or VACR, and general knowledge.

"They'll average off the PT scores, the VACR, and crew drills," said Pfc. Shawn Bandy, a gunner with B Battery. "They compile those points and whoever has the best score; the five top teams will go to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to fire a Stinger missile."

The crew drills take up the most time of the competition and test the teams' knowledge and execution. There are just two air defenders for each Avenger gun truck, so the teams need a strong relationship to run through the complicated tasks safely and quickly.

"We're looking for teams to effectively run their crew drills," said Sgt. 1st Class Omar Johnson, an evaluator from Headquarters, Headquarters Battery. "The biggest thing I'm looking for is safety and communications between the teams and see how well they work together."

The teams consist of a gunner, usually a newer air defender and a team chief with a few years of experience. Bandy just reported to the unit a little more than a month ago, so he relied on his team chief, Spc. Arturo Gonzalez, to show him the ropes before the competition.

"He helped me out a lot. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't know the things I do now," Bandy said. "I couldn't ask for a better team chief. We both have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to training on the equipment yet we help each other overcome our obstacles."

The battalion has not held a best Stinger competition since 2010 -- just prior to their deployment to Afghanistan where they mentored Afghan National Security Forces. The events this week tested not just the new Soldiers, but also the veteran air defenders after a hiatus.

"The last best Stinger was about two years ago," Johnson said. "It takes some time. It depends on how dedicated you are, if you really want it. They've been preparing for this for about a month now."

Some of the team chiefs had to reach to their air defense skills, reviving their own knowledge while teaching their newer gunners.

"This was more of a refresher," said Sgt. Armando Jimenez, a team chief with B Battery, "just going back and learning the basics as well as teaching my gunner some of the stuff he didn't learn in Advanced Individual Training."

Air defenders learn about crew drills during their Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Okla., but it's not until they report to their first unit that they take that knowledge to the Avenger trucks.

"He's a smart kid, but whenever it came down to doing the drills, he needed some coaching," Jimenez said." It's more getting him used to actually doing everything."

They're doing math in their heads to keep track of how well they're fairing against the other teams.

"I'm really competitive," Bandy said. "I always want a chance to shine, and to shoot the Stinger missile. Gonzalez and I are probably the most competitive team out here."

On Apr. 24, another Avenger crew will conduct the Stinger evaluation to compete for a chance to take part in the missile live-fire this summer. Crews that competed earlier this month will be anxiously awaiting their scores.

Page last updated Fri April 20th, 2012 at 06:34