FORT SILL, Okla., June 24, 2020 -- In a world where the next adversary might use simple, inexpensive means to eavesdrop or attack military assets, air defense artillery plays a key role in helping the Army to meet its missions.
Thirteen Soldiers from B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery were working through their lessons June 6. They were midway through their 10-week Advanced Individual Training to become 14P Air and Missile Defense (AMD) crewmembers.
Double dipping in the academic world, Staff Sgt. Ivan Peralta co-teaches the 14P class with Charles Toms, a contract instructor. The NCO also instructs another class of National Guard Soldiers in the 14S Air and Missile Defense military occupational specialty (MOS).
“I love being an instructor, and it’s something I always dreamed of becoming after I graduated AIT,” said Peralta, a native of Dallas. “My knowledge is growing more and more, in part, because of the questions these privates ask me.”
He then explained how he delves into the training manuals to get those questions answered. But, rather than just responding, Peralta said instructors show students how to find the answers themselves.
He said he can appreciate these questions as he was the one posing them to his first sergeant while stationed in South Korea as an Avenger crewmember.
“I thought I was top dog in my squad, but he taught me so much,” said Peralta.
The 14P MOS really is something to behold. For starters, Soldiers learn the Stinger; Avenger; and Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar weapons systems. But they are more than just operators as Soldiers must also perform maintenance checks; load, fire, and reload missile and gun systems; and establish and maintain communications systems.
For now, though, the student-Soldiers are learning the basics of each weapons system and gaining a solid foundation for additional training at their first duty assignments.
With nine years in the career field, Peralta’s experience gives him perspective to emphasize to his students that what they are learning is important.
Facing one of the scariest moments of his life, he deployed to Afghanistan early in his career as part of a crew of the Land-Based Phalanx Weapon System. Though fearful, he also saw it as one of the best times because it showed him what the 14P mission is.
“I let my students know, we have to be ready. You have to know that we’re Soldiers 24/7 and here to defend our nation. Any time you might be called upon to serve and do something difficult, but we train you to be ready for that,” he said.
Dollars and sense
Having re-enlisted a few years ago, Peralta said he received a nice bonus for committing a few more years of his life to the Army. He said those re-enlistment bonuses show the Army understands that it needs Soldiers trained up in this career field. Especially when an enemy may be operating from a shoestring budget.
“You can go (off post) and buy a drone for $100 to $200 – the battlefield is changing so we need to change and adapt,” he said. “What we have right now to counter that threat is short-range air defense.”
Peralta was putting a trio of his Soldiers through their paces reviewing the Stinger weapon system.
Being the first in her generation of her family to choose a career in the military, Pfc. Octavia Martin said, “It’s one of the best things I could have done for myself.”
Along with great benefits and a healthy dose of discipline, Martin chose short-range air defense because she likes to challenge herself.
“I knew coming in it is a very male-dominant MOS so I automatically try to keep up with the males and make sure I’m pushing myself every day,” said the Phoenix native.
Addressing the wide range of duties a 14P Soldier may be called upon to perform, Martin said it’s not just a job to physically overpower a task or one that’s totally mind-intensive.
“I believe it promotes the mentality of being a well-rounded Soldier,” she said.
Still, there definitely is a physical side of the MOS. As the trio reviewed the 13 checks to perform before firing a Stinger, Peralta reminded them of having to soldier on even if their Avenger broke down. Then they would have to heft the 36-pound weapon along with their assigned rifle and anything else they would need and ruck to the next firing point. To achieve that requires endurance, and Martin said one of Peralta’s favorite activities addresses that.
“Staff Sgt. Peralta likes to run. I don’t like running, but it definitely helps me,” said Martin. “When we get to our first duty station and they tell us to go on a 10-mile ruck you need a lot of endurance for that. Your whole body needs to be physically fit.”
Even as the Soldiers build leg strength, the upper body gets its work, too. Pull-ups are a favorite, and these are the tough ones -- with the hand facing away. The ADA Soldiers do 50 of these with the understanding that probably no one will complete all 50 alone. But, this reinforces the notion of teamwork as battle buddies help each other reach the half-century point.
“Staff Sgt. Peralta likes to tell us the Army’s a sport – we’re all competing and striving to get better,” said Martin. “If you can’t pick up a Stinger and put it on your back and go fire it, how are you going to get the job done?”
Martin added she likes that she’s going into a smaller career field where everyone knows each other.
“Even if things get real challenging, I can still rely on the people around me to help me out,” she said. “I’m a firm believer we can all learn from each other.”
Looking to the noncommissioned officers and civilians who teach her classes, Martin said she’s always asking questions to get the most out of her time in school and be best prepared for her first duty assignment.
While the career field is experiencing a time of growth, it comes with the realization that ADA assets are needed downrange, but that doesn’t bother Martin.
“I feel like by the time I finish AIT and go to my first duty station, if I’m told I’m going to deploy, I’ll feel like I’m pretty ready,” she said.
Hailing from Vero Beach, Florida, Pvt. Joerico Sovine called military service in his family a rite of passage. He’s far-sighted enough to hope for a 20-year enlisted career even in his second choice for his MOS.
“I did a little research and saw I would enjoy 14P because I like going hands-on with stuff,” he said. Interesting that Sovine’s civilian hands enjoyed tinkering with his 2002 Chevy Cavalier. He mentioned replacing the starter, something that required several attempts until he found a solution to make it work, but he’s also upgraded the sound system and did a brake job on his ride.
However, now he’s got new wheels to get jazzed about.
“I particularly like the Avenger weapon system because, yes, you can be stationary with it, but you can also move around,” he said. “With the Avenger you can always be on the move.”
Stationary or stationery, either way an office job didn’t sound appealing to Pvt. Noe Hernandez, so instead he also chose the 14P career field.
For this lean Texan from Nacogdoches, Hernandez said rather than being on the front lines going toe-to-toe with the enemy, he liked the idea of defending his brothers and sisters in arms.
“I’ve enjoyed learning the Stinger weapon system and how to fire it,” he said.
Ultimately, though book work has kept him on path to graduate as he said he spends a lot of off-duty time alone or in groups going over his class notes and training manuals. But he can see a lot will be expected of him as a 14P Soldier.
“I’m really excited because I want the responsibility,” said Hernandez. “This is a good push to start my career in the Army.”