COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The South Carolina National Guard held a graduation ceremony for its Patriot missile system training program, a first of its kind for the National Guard. The program provides sustainment training for 14E Patriot fire control enhanced operators, trains 14A air defense artillery officers at the brigade level to plan Patriot air defense, and provides the prerequisite training for 140E Air and Missile Defense (AMD) Systems Tactician / Technician and the Air Defense Artillery Fire Control Operations (ADAFCO).

During the ceremony held Jan. 6, 2018 in Columbia, South Carolina, 12 Soldiers were recognized after they completed eight months of training hosted by the South Carolina National Guard's 263rd Army Air Missile Defense Command.

"Be proud. I am proud of what you have accomplished," said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Frank Rice, deputy commander for the 263rd AAMDC. "You are the first Soldiers who proved this training can be done."

The 263rd AAMDC and the Ft. Bliss Capabilities Development Integration Cell, created this class to ensure National Guard Soldiers have a solid understanding of the Patriot missile system for future joint training exercises and deployments. The attendees completed the training during drill weekends where they learned not only basic knowledge about the Patriot weapon system, but also how to plan and integrate the Patriots into the joint operational environment.

"These Soldiers who completed the Patriot training program acquired skills that will make them ready and relevant for operations in any theater," said Rice. "We are on the cutting edge for total Army growth, making our organization ready to command and control subordinate Patriot units."

The graduating Soldiers were presented with a course certificates certified by the U.S. Army. Rice also recognized the two honor graduates, Maj. Keith Phelan and Maj. Adam Williams.

"The class taught us information about the Patriots that we didn't have since we are not always around the Patriots," said Sgt. Charles Brewer, Senior Engagement Control for the 678th Air Defense Brigade in the South Carolina Army National Guard.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Rice thanked National Guard Bureau and all of the instructors for their support making the course a success. He also reminded the attendees about the importance of this training for the Army Air Missile Defense career field and readiness to respond to threats around the world.

"Buckle your chin straps, this stuff is real," said Rice.

The 263rd AAMDC plans to expand the program to other units in the National Guard.