By Spc. Howard Alperin, MND-B PAOMarch 16, 2009
VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq - It's late at night, and while some coalition forces and civilian personnel continue to work, most of the Victory Base Complex (VBC) population is relaxing in their housing units getting ready for the next day's activities.
While most of VBC sleeps, it is up to a coordinated effort of Soldiers and Sailors who stay on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to thwart indirect fire attacks, keeping the skies clear and the people at VBC safe.
"Life at Victory Base Complex is made safer everyday by a weapons system designed to detect incoming mortars and by the Soldiers and Sailors who operate this system," said Navy Lt. j.g. Jason Mason, from Los Angeles, an intelligence officer, assigned to Task Force Iron Shield, Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
Originally used on Navy ships, the Phalanx system was modified for land-based operations, and is now used across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Navy personnel focus on maintaining the Phalanx equipment and its radars and camera mounts. Army personnel focus on rocket knowledge, all other radars, and communication systems, added Mason.
When it comes to defending the base, any incoming mortar must be confirmed before the Phalanx weapons system will fire.
"All the artillery and [other] radars have certain sectors and they co-mingle with each other," said Staff Sgt. Daniel Smith, from Flushing, Mich., the non-commissioned officer in charge of the TF Iron Shield Engagement Operations Center, assigned to Btry. B, 2nd Bn., 44th ADA Regt., 101st Abn. Div.
With an incredible knack for calculations, Smith uses the information provided by the radar systems and crunches the numbers to determine kinds of mortars, their speeds of travel and their trajectories.
"We're always studying. It is part of the job," he said. "We don't want to be setting off alarms and having people get under cover for no reason."
Smith downplays the importance of his job and casually quips, "I track stuff that flies around." But, he is well aware that the stuff that flies around up there can hurt troops on the ground.
As important as the work at the Phalanx EOC is, none of it would matter if the system equipment was not functioning at full capacity: that's where Sailors come in. They conduct weapons maintenance around the clock to ensure that all Phalanx systems are operating.
"During pre-action test fires, we calibrate the guns. We make sure that the radars are aligned with the guns so they shoot accurately," said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class, Samuel Willis, a fire control and maintenance technician, who hails from Los Vegas, with the TF Iron Shield Counter Rocket Artillery Mortar center, attached to Btry. B. "Because these weapons must be operational at all the times, we are constantly checking on the different components, parts and programming that make up the system," said Willis.
The end result is that the Phalanx is always ready and always alert. Soldiers and Sailors work hand in glove in order to protect the base as best as possible.
"The paths of the Army and Navy personnel don't really cross, but each is integral to each other. We are one battery," said the deputy commander of TF Iron Shield, Navy Lt. Heather Twiggs, from Cumming, Ga., assigned to Btry. B. "We work together to complete one mission, to protect VBC from incoming, indirect fire and to warn the base as soon as possible."
As coalition forces and civilian personnel start their days with physical training or breakfast, worries of being attacked from indirect fire are not their first thought. Those worries are left up to the Army and Navy personnel of TF Iron Shield who share the awesome responsibility of protecting VBC from enemy attack.