FORT SILL, Okla. -- The Fort Sill Fires community celebrated the 45th anniversary of the establishment of the Air Defense Artillery Branch June 20, 2013 at Snow Hall at Fort Sill, Okla.

The 3rd Battalion, 6th ADA "Bruiser Nation" sponsored the ceremony, which featured a presentation on the history of the branch; its lineage, honors and decorations; and a birthday cake cutting.

In his welcome, host Col. Donald Fryc, ADA School commandant and chief of ADA, said that it is an exciting time to be an air defender.

Currently, 60 percent of ADA units are forward deployed or are committed to deploy around the world, Fryc said. "There's probably never been a more important job in the service than air defense artilleryman right now."

Hundreds of air warrior students: officer, enlisted and international students, as well as permanent duty, packed Kerwin Auditorium to hear about ADA heritage from Dr. David Christensen, Army Air Defense Command historian at the school.

Although the ADA Branch was established June 20, 1968, during the Vietnam War era, air defense was born out the Army's Coastal Artillery Corps during World War I, Christensen said.

"When the Army decided to make air defense officers and enlisted, they chose Coastal Artillery guys because they could hit two-dimensional targets, meaning ships, coming and going and bobbing and weaving," Christensen said. "It made sense because they had those gunnery skills."

The first U.S. Army air defense kill was May 18, 1918 by a lieutenant with 2nd Company in France, the historian said. He used two M1918 anti-aircraft guns to shoot down a German airplane.

During World War II, air defenders first engaged Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor, he said. And, it was American Army air defenders who protected the port of Antwerp, Belgium, from German V-1 rockets. Out of 5,000 rockets launched at Antwerp, only 211 detonated on target, Christensen said.

In the first Gulf War, Patriot missile crews hit 44 out of 45 Iraqi Scud missiles, he said.

Christensen also spoke about the origins and evolution of Oozlefinch, the historic mascot of ADA. Oozle's motto is: "If it flies, it dies. Blazing skies."

As part of the ceremony, the 3-6th ADA's oldest and youngest Soldier sliced the birthday cake.

Sgt. 1st Class Andrea Garza took the first bite before giving a piece to Pvt. Harley Nippe, 18, symbolizing the passing of history and traditions. Garza is a Patriot Advanced Individual Training platoon sergeant, and Nippe is an AIT Patriot student.

Lt. Col. Shaun Lott, 3-6th ADA commander, said it was important for the students and foreign military partners to see the branch history and legacy.

"They see that we've come a very long way with out technology, and they get a better understanding of why we train as hard as we do."

During the celebration, the audience heard about the 3-6th ADA's emblem, decorations, battle streamers, and five ADA heroes from different wars. Soldiers dressed in uniforms from those campaigns stood on stage as each hero's narrative was read.

One of those was Sgt. Mitchell Stout, 1st Battalion, 44th Artillery, the only ADA Medal of Honor recipient.

Stout, died March 12, 1970, in South Vietnam, after his searchlight crew was attacked. Stout protected his fellow Soldiers when he shielded them from a grenade that was thrown into their bunker.

Pvt. Jeremy Hammers, age 23, of Morgantown, Ky., was one of the hundreds of students at the celebration. He said of all his choices of military occupational specialities, ADA was the best fit for him.

"We're the first to fire, we're right there in the middle of the action of air defense, and the MOS is growing," said Hammers, who graduated from AIT the next day and was headed for Fort Bliss, Texas.

Student Pfc. Lilliana Begay, 27, B Battery, 3-6th ADA, said she chose Patriot fire control enhanced operator/maintainer because she likes computers and plans to become a software engineer.

"There's a lot of electronics in the Patriot system, and you have to be comfortable in front of the console," said Begay, who is from San Francisco.

She added that she is looking forward to using the system because "it performs a great role in defending our brothers and sisters who are stationed in certain areas."