ARABIAN GULF-- According to the U.S. Army, military occupational specialty code 14T is a Patriot Launching Station Operator/Maintainer. Yet, the criticality of this particular air defense position is impossible to fully capture in a title. When asked what the "T" stands for in 14T (pronounced phonetically as "Fourteen Tango"), Patriot crew members will jokingly tell you "tired" or "training." It would be more fitting to say that the T stands for "trust" or "teamwork" as those traits are critical to the specialty. The cohesion of one five-man air defense crew in particular allowed them to attain the top score in this past month's operational readiness exercise (ORE).
For the Soldiers of Charlie Battery, 3rd Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, operating as a crew on and off 24-hour shifts is vital to a successful operation. From training drills to evaluations, to the ever constant need for maintenance, working together is key. Sgt. Robert Harrison, a crew leader for Charlie Battery, admits that without the dedication and motivation of his troops, his own efforts would be futile.
"I can only guide them and supervise my Soldiers," said Harrison. "Where the rubber meets the road, they make me successful."
Harrison believes his team is top notch and has achieved such a status by remaining resilient and always putting 100 percent into their training. Although any crew can claim to be the best, Harrison and his four Soldiers achieved the highest score in the entire Area of Operations during the latest ORE. Their Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Christopher Brough, expressed pride in his "Skystriker" Soldiers, but made it clear that surpassing the minimum standards is expected.
"We train and train and train," said Brough. "Every time our crews have been evaluated, they have always met or exceeded the standard."
As part of the ORE, the crews have to take artillery canisters off and reload them, said Brough. He emphasized how technical the process is and that attention to detail is paramount when working with these million dollar missiles. Although the missiles are a large part of the operation, to have a fully functioning system every single piece of equipment is of vital importance. This is apparent in the crew evaluations. Harrison explained that if one small piece of a generator is not properly secured or is missing, the entire crew fails the whole evaluation. One small defect can mean the difference in being a certified crew or not.
"We are the best right now, but next month that could change," said Harrison. "Maintenance is so important, if you have a generator with a missing bolt that is minus 61 points and you fail."
During the latest ORE, the crew's hard work paid off and they earned the top score among all of the Patriot sites in the region. Besides keeping their skills and equipment in tip top shape, the air defense Soldiers also battle a less obvious, but potentially more catastrophic adversary: complacency. Even though these Soldiers rarely get to launch a missile -- a good thing by all accounts -- the constant drills and maintenance become monotonous and Soldiers have to find ways to keep up their skills and their spirits.
"Complacency kills," said Harrison. "We not only have to maintain our equipment, but also ourselves."
Harrison said hunting the good stuff becomes increasingly important through the deployment. Whether it is going to the gym or indulging in chicken nuggets at the mess hall on Thursday, for Harrison and his Soldiers, enjoying the little things on their time off helps maintain resiliency.
Motivated Soldiers are what it takes to secure the best score each month, Harrison believes. He grouped air defense Soldiers into two groups, those that are okay with a passing score and those who are always striving to better themselves. Harrison attributes having the top performing Patriot site to having an entire crew of the latter. Brough noted that this is the standard for all of the crews in the regiment, claiming all of the "Skystrikers" are the best in the area of operations, potentially in the entire air defense community.
"Every time I hear a fighter jet take off, it is the sound of death to an enemy of America and our allies" said Brough, as one of the aircraft took off in the distance. "This is just part of what we are defending, our guys have to be trained and ready."