Soldiers of the Battery E, 62nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade became the first unit to become mission qualified with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon system on Fort Hood.
The battery is one of six deployable THAAD units in the United States Army's arsenal.
"First, our basic qualification tables certified the crews could accomplish their tactical mission for each individual section, whether it's sensor, launcher or fire control," said Capt. Christopher Easley, battery commander. "The brigade then sent out an evaluator to certify the battery on mission qualified standards, which verifies that we are fully operational."
To be fully operational, the unit has to prove they have the ability to emplace their equipment and set up their site then be assessed how well they can communicate effectively to track and destroy airborne threats.
"Becoming mission qualified is done by verifying that our march order and emplacement systems are correct, that we conduct a launcher reload within the allotted time correctly and we can perform the air battle management evaluation for each crew to certify they are ready to go, per brigade and 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command's standards," Easley said.
Easley took command of the THAAD battery earlier in the year when the unit only had conventional equipment such as their tactical vehicles. From March to September, the unit became fully equipped and mission ready.
It was a post-wide effort that led the battery to become the first THAAD battery to be deployable in the 69th ADA Bde. In June, construction was complete on the first training area in Central Texas capable of supporting the weapon system's training requirements. The Directorate of Public Works and III Corps worked with the brigade to establish a suitable area for the Soldiers to operate their powerful radar.
"There is tremendous support from the agencies and organizations on Fort Hood, especially the Directorate of Public Works," said Col. Curtis King, commander of the 69th ADA Bde., who took command of the brigade on the day the equipment arrived locally. "Their collective efforts have ensured the 69th ADA Bde. can train and deploy THAAD Batteries at home station. This significantly increases our ability to rapidly deploy THAAD when called to do so."
As the training area was being developed, the air defenders stayed working towards the overall goal of becoming mission ready. Two things had to happen -- received formal training on the equipment and obtain the weapon system.
"From January to April, Soldiers were going back and forth to Fort Bliss for their particular training, whether it was to learn fire control, learn how to work the launcher or operate the radar equipment," Easley said. "All of the Soldiers got their training from the Missile Defense Agency and THAAD project officer at Fort Bliss."
Armed with the training on the anti-ballistic missile system, Easley and his Soldiers applied their knowledge to validate their new equipment, prior to shipping it to Fort Hood.
"We got the equipment fielded at Bliss in May to do systems checkout and integration," Easley said. "Essentially to make sure the equipment worked. It was a two week process with MDA and operational test command to prove that the equipment that I was going to sign for, was fully operational."
Easley said the battery stayed for an additional two weeks to apply their new training and get more familiar with the equipment by conducting battery collective training.
"We were getting our feet wet and getting our base line established for our gunnery we held this past September," he said. "So bottom line, the noncommissioned officers quickly studied up on their tactics and their training for the THAAD weapon system. More importantly, they implemented their experience and articulated it very clearly to my Soldiers."
The majority of the battery's Soldiers are fresh out of advanced individual training, so it was up to the NCOs with prior THAAD experience to further develop the rest of the battery.
"A lot of the Soldiers didn't know how the THAAD was set up because this is new for them," said Staff Sgt. Sergio Arana, San Diego, California native and the NCOIC of the battery's Initial Coordination Element Team. "So, I developed a rehearsal of concept drill that showed how everything should be set so the Soldiers have an idea of what to do when the battery received their marching orders to the field."
Because Arana was a part of the Army's first THAAD unit, he was a key player in the success of the battery's gunnery from planning, directing the setup of the site and even mentoring Soldiers along the way.
"Based off of my experience, I showed them how their daily operations should go but not only one for garrison training but also how to operate in forward situations," Arana said. "They tailored it that made their tactics, techniques and procedures and their standard operating procedures more specific to the unit's mission set."
He explained to the Soldiers on how their role and equipment fits into the bigger picture, giving them a more broadened perspective on the overall battery operations.
"A lot of the Soldiers didn't know how the THAAD was set up and it was their first time emplacing their equipment while being evaluated," Arana said. "Each section now knows how vital their mission is to the unit. Everything is in a certain place for a reason."
With the help of every Soldier and the realization that their entire command was watching, all of the crews became certified.
"I think the crews' motivation and morale was high because its history in the making for Fort Hood and the 69th ADA Brigade," Arana said. "Knowing that, that made them run everything at above 100 percent effort. They were there ready to learn, ready to execute and ready to make history."
The 69th ADA Bde.'s second THAAD battery is currently receiving its equipment and sending their Soldiers to train. Additionally, Btry. B is using E's experience and lessons learned to prepare for their mission qualifications.
"The other battery's key leadership came out to the training and a couple of my NCOs are already coming up with a training plan," Arana said. "So when we are training on air battle management in the motorpool, we can have the sister battery come over here and shadow us. So they are leaning forward at being successful when it's time for their gunnery."
Arana said that the Soldiers would find better, more efficient ways to do certain tasks in an attempt to not only refine their procedures. but to help their sister battery learn from their lessons learned.
"My Soldiers are very resourceful and were thinking outside the box to help out their sister battery learn from our experiences," Easley said. "From a three week span, our Soldiers went from having just knowing enough about the system to operate it to being fully mission qualified, able to conduct air battle management to standard and established a solid base line for our maintenance program."
"With Echo-62 being mission qualified, it means they are now one of six THAAD Batteries in the U.S. Army ready to deploy worldwide and defend against advanced ballistic missile threats," said Col. King. "The Battery achieving their mission qualified status so quickly demonstrates the dedication and professionalism of our Soldiers."