By Jeff Crawley, Fort Sill TribuneJanuary 22, 2016
FORT SILL, Okla. (Jan. 22, 2016) -- Retired Col. Joe DeAntona recalled his experience 25 years ago during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
It was Jan. 18, 1991, near Dhahran Airport in Saudi Arabia. He was a captain and the commander of B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery, a Patriot missile unit.
Earlier in the day about 4:30 a.m., Soldiers in A Battery, 2-7th ADA which was a couple kilometers away, fired the first Patriot missile to shoot down an Iraqi Scud missile.
It was now evening and DeAntona's tactical control officer (TCO) told him there was an incoming hostile tactical ballistic missile (TBM) threat. The order to engage was given.
"All of a sudden I hear this rumble and feel this shock," DeAntona said. "I thought the Scud hit (us)."
The TCO reported: "Two missiles away." It was then the captain realized the sound and shock were actually his Patriot missiles launching from their tubes.
Moments later DeAntona and the battery crew members learned of the confirmed kill.
"It was high-fives and loud clapping. It was like a game-winning shot, it was like scoring the winning touchdown pass on the last play," DeAntona said. "It felt like victory."
DeAntona was the guest speaker as the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first TBM intercept in combat
Hundreds of Soldiers, veterans and defense contractors from the Fires community attended the ceremony Jan. 14, at Snow Hall.
Brig. Gen. Christopher Spillman, Army ADA School commandant and chief of ADA, welcomed the guests, which included many young ADA students. The general said the intercept of a TBM 25 years ago was revolutionary.
"That single event, and the engagements that followed, ushered in a new era for air defense artillery," Spillman said. "We shifted our focus away from defeating aircraft, instead, to encountering short-range ballistic missiles that were and still are being proliferated by our adversaries."
Fort Sill trains about 3,000 air defenders a year on the Patriot, Stinger and Avenger weapons systems, including allied soldiers, he said. There are about 11,000 ADA Soldiers in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard.
"That force we have today, and the missions we are performing around the globe are directly related to what we achieved as a branch during those early days of Operation Desert Storm," the general said.
Spillman told the young Soldiers that it is important to commemorate the past, and to be aware of the legacy that they are inheriting and carrying forward in their careers.
The ADA branch is one of the most deployed forces in the Army and that won't change anytime soon, Spillman said. Air defenders are standing point around the globe in the Pacific, Northeast Asia, Europe and in the United States, in Alaska and, the National Capitol Region.
"They makes us proud every single day in the superb manner in which they execute our vital air defense mission," he said.
Twenty-five years ago, DeAntona said he had no idea where Saudi Arabia was and didn't know if the Saudis were U.S. allies or enemies. However, he, like the rest of the Army, was well aware of the Soviet threat.
When the United States entered the Gulf War Aug. 2, 1990, the Patriot missile system was only about five years old, and had only been used against aircraft, DeAntona said. The flight characteristics of a TBM are much different than an aircraft and are harder to shoot down.
There were no mission rehearsal exercises back then to prepare them for the deployment, he said. The Army didn't have family readiness groups, either. Young spouses with newborn babies had to figure out what to do and this directly led to the formation of FRGs.
Early in 1990, B/2-7th ADA was at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and about to begin an arduous testing process of the Patriot against TBMs, said DeAntona, who now lives in New Hampshire, and works for Raytheon, which developed the Patriot. It was then it that it got its marching orders.
"We did not know if the system was capable of doing what we were going to ask it to do (in combat)," he said. So it was going to be a TBM defense experiment in Saudi Arabia, and not New Mexico.
One thing DeAntona did know was his Soldiers.
"I did know that we trained hard. I did know that we knew how to fight the Patriot missile system the way it was configured. We felt confident we could execute the mission, but albeit nervous."
Before boarding an Air Force C-5 galaxy to fly to the Middle East, DeAntona recalled Raytheon technicians handing him two 2-inch binders of technical documents.
"This is how we think you need to configure your systems to go ahead and fight," DeAntona said the techs told him.
For the 18 hours on the flight, DeAntona said he, his leaders and two Raytheon techs "literally designed the defense on the fly to Saudi Arabia."
Also on the C-5 were the Patriot launchers and their battery crews. Every Soldier was in full battle gear with hand grenades, De Antona said.
"We were thinking that we were going to fight our way out of the C-5 when we landed in Saudi Arabia to get to our tactical site," he said.
When the doors of the C-5 opened the Soldiers were hit with a blast of hot air. DeAntona said he thought it the exhaust of an F-15 jet, but it was just the wind.
DeAntona said his Soldiers would not have been able to do their mission in that harsh environment had they not been so physically fit.
As it turned out, it would be a few months before the Patriot shooting started, so the air defenders revised and improved their plans, DeAntona said.
He said the air defense force has to always be ready to move out. What happened 25 years ago was a classic example of what could happen.
DeAntona said there will be another missile war similar to the Gulf War. "One of you is going to have the opportunity to plow new grounds," he told the Soldiers.