FORT SILL, Okla.-- Advanced Individual Training Soldiers from B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery completed their field training exercise Sept. 20 providing communications to fire control teams, and command and control decision makers.

Fifty-one students in the Early Warning System Operator course went through the exercise working either the High-to-Medium-Altitude Air Defense or Short-Range Air Defense systems. The exercise is held once monthly at Thompson Hill training area on Fort Sill.

"The training provided students the hands-on component that complemented what they learned in the schoolhouse," said Christopher Zubia, an early warning defense instructor. "Today they saw an actual air picture of a tactical environment instead of a simulation. This is exactly what they will see at their Forces Command units."

Exercise requirements included completing skills the Soldiers learned in Basic Combat Training, such as conducting a tactical road march, and setting up and securing a perimeter. From there, they applied technical skills learned from schoolhouse classes to place, set up and operate their communications equipment.

"In an operational environment, Soldiers would choose an open area so they would have maximum use of their radar," said Staff Sgt. Michael Trost, early warning air defense AIT instructor. "Should they encounter any problems, they need to be able to troubleshoot to determine how to fix it -- doing this boosts their confidence in the equipment and in themselves as Soldiers."

The two systems provide complementary functions with the HIMAD system giving longer-range data on missiles, fixed and rotary wing aircraft to Patriot fire control teams. Although the SHORAD gives similar data, its information is sent to Avenger fire control teams who primarily serve as air defenders for bases, camps or forward operating bases.

Staff Sgt. Garrison Hopper, early warning air defense AIT instructor, compared the system to radar operators in "Pearl Harbor."

"Those radar observers saw inbound aircraft but didn't alert anyone to a possible attack," he said. "Our job is to watch the skies and if threats are coming in, whether they are enemy aircraft or missiles, it's our job to alert everyone so they are ready to fight."

During classroom training, Soldiers learned one component at a time of either the HIMAD or SHORAD system. The exercise assembled all those components giving them a first glimpse at the systems they would work on at their duty stations.

Sgt. Anthony Ramirez may well have worked on some of the vehicles that pulled the communications systems into place for the exercise. Ramirez reclassified into the air defense career field from his previous job as a heavy-wheeled vehicle operator. He's literally went from a rubber-meets-the-road-job to communicating with satellites and worldwide systems.

"I don't know yet if I'm going to like it, but the training has been fun," he said.

Being a student himself, he said time management helped him process the information to learn his new MOS. Along with his own needs, Ramirez is one of a handful of NCOs who retrained.
Working with the lowest ranking Soldiers sometimes required moments to exercise his leadership skills.

"I gave the [junior ranking] Soldiers in my class as much information as I could and answered any of their questions that I could," he said. "I asked them questions to get them thinking of situations they may face so they can be better prepared when they get to their units."

Hopper said instructors assessing student understanding looked for how efficiently they completed tasks.

With seven years under his belt doing this job, Hopper also served at the battalion level evaluating subordinate units to make sure they met all standards.

"I volunteered to come here, because I know I was made to instruct. When I see the students learning and grasping the material, it makes for a pleasant day, and I feel like I accomplished the mission," he said.

The exercise received top level interest with Capt. Kurt Hildebrandt, B/2-6th ADA commander, or 1st Sgt. Allen Carter onsite checking how the training progressed. Carter said their visits gave them time to build camaraderie with the students. He often passed himself off as a passer-by who asked the students what they've learned.

Clustered about the senior NCO, the students chimed in with details he inquired about. At times a Soldier would tell Carter the information he asked about was too sensitive to share.

"I saw in their responses they like to give me the right answers to my questions. I like to walk through and help them feel good about themselves and the MOS they are learning," he said.

Having secured their area of operation, Pvt. Blaine Savage's team began set up and operations of the communications equipment. Hustling out to power up a low-noise generator, he knew his days as an AIT student-Soldier would soon draw to a close.

"It feels good to be done soon, though next I go on to airborne training," he said. "When I signed up for this job I really didn't know much about it, but I've learned a lot and understand its importance it was a great choice."