FORT GREELY, Alaska -- Flying over Alaska in November during daylight hours was a sight to behold; as far as the eye can see there was frost covering the ground and the rivers were solid ice rather than blue and flowing. It was exactly this sight that gave me a whole new respect for the Soldiers of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion (Ground-based Midcourse Defense).

Every year the 100th Missile Defense Brigade conducts an exercise to evaluate the training plans and functional capability of their subordinate - the 49th MD Battalion - and this year was no different...except for the bitter cold.

Every aspect of the battalion gets evaluated, from the staff sections to the military police who safeguard the first line of defense from an incoming ballistic missile to North America all the way to the crew members who have to remain vigilant 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to make this system actually work.

Intelligence injects are a huge part of this exercise known as Vigilant Shield, so the S-2 stays busy. However, all staff sections get random situations thrown at them.

"It is a good exercise because it keeps you on your toes," said Sgt. 1st Class Melissa Hollingsworth, Human Resources noncommissioned officer for the 49th MD Battalion.

"It is especially helpful for the new Soldiers in their respected staff sections because a lot of them haven't been evaluated before," said Hollingsworth.

One of the most important and crucial areas covered by this exercise, however, is the anti-terrorism/ force protection capabilities. Considering all the money spent on securing the missile field at Fort Greely, it's quite obvious why.

Opposing forces attack the missile field every year in order to evaluate the Military Police's ability to respond to an attack by real enemy forces if the situation ever presented itself. Generally, for exercise purposes, the OPFOR have no problem breaching the wire and reaching their objective.

This year's outcome however was a little different...

Since last year's exercise, a good portion of money was spent to install Ground Surveillance Radars throughout the fence line of the missile field as well as grub clearing for hundreds of meters back away from the fence.

"This year we were able to detect personnel for hundreds of meters back before they even approached the fence," said Capt. Bryan Murphy, Force Protection Officer for the 100th MD Brigade.

Murphy monitored the radars in order to evaluate the MPs reacting to a threat.

He said, "This is a great asset to have for the MPs because they can now see a threat, be able to tell if it's a moose or human, be able to tell if they're carrying weapons and then posture their forces where they need to be."

Sure enough, at approximately 5:30 a.m. the OPFOR carried out the attack and were indeed picked up by the ground surveillance radars and the MPs reacted accordingly neutralizing them before any assets were damaged.

This then tied into the crew members being able to carry out the most important mission of all--having the operational capability to take down an incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

Although neither the 49th MD Battalion nor the 100th MD Brigade actually launch a Ground-based Interceptor during these exercises, they do have many successful missile intercept tests under their collective belts.

So when a "threat country" launched an ICBM at North America during VS 09 on a simulator of the system, the "intercept" was successful and many Americans remained quietly in their homes.

These kinds of exercises are important all across the United States military because it's important for servicemembers to stay fresh on training and up-to-date with what's going on around them. It's especially hard for the missile defense world because it is a world of "spiral development," meaning it is changing sometimes on a daily basis.

With the training given by the 100th MD Brigade and received by the 49th MD Battalion, both units are as fresh as they can be at the moment and ready to defend.