By 1st Lt. Austin Liu, 6-52nd Air Defense Artillery, 35th ADA Brigade Public AffairsApril 4, 2011
SUWON AIR BASE, South Korea - Drops of sweat poured down from Spc. Dustin Cantu's chin onto his gear, which were already soaked with mud and rain.
The 19-year-old team leader sprinted back and forth to collect the remaining guide wires for the antenna as his crew, Pfc. Eric Bucholtz and Pfc. Alexander Vera, began the final steps to road march the antenna mast group vehicle, also known as the AMG.
The crew was doing excellent on time, Cantu thought to himself.
He stole a quick glanced at the evaluators standing on the sideline and noticed a smile of approval on their faces this time.
The standard for road marching the AMG is usually one hour.
The crew only used 40 minutes so far. Just as he was about to shout a few words of encouragement to his crew, Cantu realized the rain had turned into snow.
Cantu and his antenna mast group crew, assigned to the communication platoon of Headquarters Battery, 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery, were participating in the semi-annual Patriot gunnery evaluation held at Suwon Air Base March 23 - 25.
This evaluation served as the final bench mark for the communication platoon and its communication relay group, also known as CRG, in validating their ability to execute their wartime mission on the Korean Peninsula.
"The weather was certainly not on our side this afternoon." Cantu chuckled, referring to the rare snow in spring. He then changed to a more serious tone and said, "but the CRG crew still made it happen ... nothing can stop the communication platoon from accomplishing its mission."
It was exactly this type of bravado and can-do spirit from Cantu that first caught Staff Sgt. Chopcinski's attention. Chopcinski served as the crew chief for the communication relay group.
Back in December of last year, Chopcinski and the rest of the leaders in the communication platoon were recruiting for candidates to build up the first crew of the communication relay group.
For a Soldier to earn the position of first crew usually meant that he or she is among the best in the platoon.
"I remember meeting this young private first class [Cantu] one day and noticed that he exhibited a level of maturity and leadership," said Chopcinski. "I immediately knew back then that I wanted this guy to be on my crew."
Cantu was assigned as the team leader of the antenna mast group vehicle, a position usually reserved for noncommissioned officers. Antenna Mast Group is also one of the most important pieces of equipment in the Communication Relay Group.
"I was extremely proud to have been selected to serve in the position [team leader]," said the Texas native, "And I promised myself I will do my best to accomplish the mission."
"I have never learned about the AMG in advanced individual training as a 25C, so I knew I had to spend some extra time preparing," Cantu said.
Cantu soon learned there are other challenges awaiting a young Soldier working above his rank.
"The first challenge I encountered in my new position is that I noticed some of my Soldiers on my team had difficulty taking orders from someone who does not have the NCO stripe," Cantu said.
"But I was able to quickly let my team know that I am now wearing the hat of NCO and I can no longer act as if I am not."
Chopcinski added, "I remember Soldiers coming to me one day and complained that Cantu was giving orders to them as if he was an NCO ... I looked at them and said, 'good, that means he is doing his job.'"
Cantu enlisted in the Army right out of high school, not because of the benefits, scholarship or even the adventure.
"I enlisted because I wanted to serve ... because our society lacks folks that simply want to serve their nation," he said.
The sole communication platoon in the battalion plays a critical role in the mission accomplishment of a Patriot battalion.
"Communication Relay Group serves as the communication relay between one Patriot Firing Battery and another and between the firing battery and its higher headquarters during air and missile defense operations," explained Master Sgt. Timothy Kinmon, the 6-52nd Air Defense Artillery Battalion Electronic Missile Maintenance Office (EMMO) noncommissioned officer-in-charge and the primary evaluator of CRG gunnery evaluation.
He continued, "If hostilities break out on the peninsula, they [CRG] are usually deployed to different locations, along with the firing batteries, to ensure that vital communication link is up and running quickly so that air defenders can successfully intercept enemy tactical ballistic missiles."
As Cantu and his team received their outbrief from the evaluators after successfully completing their crew drill, the young team leader was already planning how to get his crews to the next evaluation.
His leaders, however, have something else planned for the promising Soldier.
"I am preparing him [Cantu] for the next board," Chopcinski said. "It is time for him to get promoted to a noncommissioned officer ... after all, he is already performing at that level."