By Marie Berberea, Fort SillDecember 19, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (Dec. 19, 2013) -- There's times when Soldiers train for the "just-in-case" scenario. This was not one of those times.
Soldiers in 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery from Fort Campbell, Ky., were notified they were deploying, and they worked with the Fires Center of Excellence to completely revamp their training to use the Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) in Afghanistan.
About 10 days after the secretary of Defense notified the Campbell Soldiers they were deploying, several working parts from Fort Sill to include 2nd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery, Fort Sill Garrison, Project Management Office for C-RAM, 30th Air Defense Artillery, 214th Fires Brigade, and contractors from Raytheon helped organize the necessary training.
"We spent 35 days doing all of our initial training at Fort Campbell, and then about 10 days ago came here. Everybody at Fort Sill really came together to welcome us, to support us, to help us get this training accomplished," said Lt. Col. Tim Shaffer, 2-44th ADA commander.
Shaffer said his battalion was actually scheduled to convert to a C-RAM battalion one year from now, but that suspense date came rushing toward them.
"What's interesting is 2-44th ADA is still an Avenger battalion. Fifty days ago we were training on Avenger weapon systems. In that time we have completely reorganized, retrained and re-equipped the battalion to be a C-RAM battalion," said Shaffer.
Two teams of instructors from 2-6th ADA traveled to Fort Campbell for two and a half weeks at a time to guide the Soldiers on the weapon system before firing it here. The facilities for training there are not ready, so the live fire exercise was done at Fort Sill.
"As far as rehearsals go, you can only do the computer-simulated threat so many times before you actually have to physically get on the system and physically operate it," said 1st Lt. Keith Wimsatt, 1st Platoon, 2-44th ADA. "I think there's nothing better than a live fire to really hone their skills."
The group arrived during the winter weather that just came through here, but they said it only added the element of reality to where they are headed.
"The weather is almost identical to what we'll deal with when we get to Afghanistan, so it was really nice of Fort Sill to bring that weather in for us when we got here," said Shaffer.
Soldiers not only trained on the gun, but there were crews in the engagement operations center as well. The 2-6th ADA instructors said the Soldiers understood how important it was to learn to use the C-RAM.
Staff Sgt. Charles Wall, C-RAM Operator Course instructor, said they did not give the Soldiers a pass or fail on the weapon system like they would for traditional students, but they were consistently coaching them during training.
"We give them a starting point and the engagements they go through get progressively more difficult. After each engagement we put them into a pod and [do an after action review]."
He said he was extremely impressed with the Soldiers and knows they will be able to effectively use C-RAM downrange.
"2-6th [ADA] has the experts. Our training base in the Army, our institutional knowledge is at 2-6th ADA so them being out here validating what we're doing, sharing their experiences with us has been absolutely critical to this training being successful," said Shaffer.
"This final culminating training, really is everything coming together giving Soldiers the confidence in this system, giving our leadership confidence in this system and validating for me and my higher headquarters that we're ready to go and do this mission in Afghanistan," said Shaffer.
Shaffer said he is not only impressed with his Soldiers but also with how family members have supported them during this fast moving deployment.
"We've gotten used to over the last couple years of having a year plus to prepare for deployment mentally. We didn't have that this time. Our families have been incredibly resilient. They understand the importance of this mission. They understand it's about saving lives and their Soldier going away for nine months to a year means that some other Soldier may get to come home," said Shaffer.