FORT BLISS, Texas - The Soldiers of the Army's first THAAD battery are doing more than undergoing new equipment training on the air defense system. They're also reaching out to the El Paso community.

Battery A of the 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade under the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, has adopted a domestic violence shelter in El Paso. The shelter is called Dame La Mano, which is Spanish for Give Me Your Hand.

Since March, the Soldiers have provided supplies for maintenance of the shelter's facilities and conducted a clothing drive for this outreach program.

"It's just to offer the Soldiers an opportunity to give a little bit extra back to the community as well as to establish relationships with the El Paso community," battery commander Capt. Curtis Zervic said in a phone interview June 10.

Zervic, 28, from Chicago, became commander last November and has been in the Army six years. The unit started receiving Soldiers in December and was officially activated as the first of four THAAD batteries May 28. THAAD stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, a program managed by the Missile Defense Agency.

"It's obviously an honor and a privilege to be selected amongst all the people that could be on the job (as commander)," Zervic said. "It's an exciting moment for the regiment to field a new weapon system."

The battery is up to 90 Soldiers. Each battery is to have 100 Soldiers; and its equipment will include phased array X-band radar, THAAD command and control, a launcher control station, and three launchers. Each launcher carries eight interceptors, for a total of 24 missiles.

"Right now we're going through new equipment training where the air defense Soldiers are learning how to operate and maintain the THAAD missile system," Zervic said.

They're also doing common military training; and the battery is sending Soldiers through military schools for professional development.

The new equipment training is being provided from prime contractor Lockheed Martin through the THAAD Project Office, which is based at Redstone.

The training is to continue until November. After that, the battery will enter a collective training event where it will take the equipment into the field to train. The equipment will be turned over to the battery within the next year and the unit will be ready to deploy.

The second battery is to begin in 2009 and activate in 2010. Equipment delivery for the third battery is planned 2012 and the fourth in 2013.

Zervic, an air and missile defense officer, praises the THAAD system, which has been in development about 17 years.

"I think it provides not only the Army but the nation with a legitimate capability against multiple threats to include threats of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "Regardless of what we hear in the news today, there are viable threats out there. And I think we're very important to the fight."

Battery members Staff Sgt. Daryl Way and Sgt. Derrek Mortensen formerly served with the THAAD flight test team.

Way, 26, from Cleveland, Ohio, has been in the Army seven years; and his specialty is Patriot missile operator and maintainer. His involvement with THAAD began in March 2005 and took him to flight tests at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and the Pacific Missile Range in Kauai, Hawaii. He operated the radar on flights 1-3, the THAAD fire control and communications on flight 4, the radar on flight 6, and the fire control again on flights 7-8.

"I think it's an amazing system. The capabilities are awesome," Way said. "I know it's successful. It can protect the troops and protect metropolitan areas. It can be put in any situation (where) the ballistic missile threat is there."

Mortensen, 24, from Sierra Vista, Ariz., has been in the Army seven years. His specialty is Patriot launcher maintainer/operator. He was in the flight test unit about two years. He observed flight 6, served as assistant on the launcher crew on flight 7, and was the primary operator on the launcher for flight 8.

"I think it's highly effective," Mortensen said. "I've dealt with the Patriot system before. It's a lot easier to use (than Patriot)."