By Spc. Nathan GoodallOctober 23, 2012
Yuma, Ariz. -- The Yuma desert is a grimy lush, where the creature comforts of home melt away, only to be replaced with stifling heat. The sun hangs high, obnoxiously spilling its rays over the rough landscape.
Graceless plants claw at the sky with scraggly limbs and brittle leaves, clinging to the dry ground like mosquitoes on the bare flesh of an unknowing victim.
With no signs of civilization for miles upon miles, Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, had found the perfect place for a missile range.
The Soldiers are formed in a line that curves and moves like a snake toward the firing point, where, near the front, await two Soldiers. Noncommissioned officers supervising the range shout encouraging words and show their confidence in the team; missing the target never crossed their minds.
Pfc. Tyler R. Enokian, an M-1097 Avenger Air Defense System gunner, and Spc. Scott. L. Oppel, an Avenger crew chief, both with Battery C, fired an FIM-92 Stinger missile as a gun team during the Marine Corps Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course at Yuma Proving Grounds, Sept. 30.
The Stinger is part of Enokian and Oppel's primary weapon system, but it's rarely fired.
The price of the Stinger, at roughly $40,000 a missile, and the limited number of ranges where it can be launched, make Stinger live-fires a rare occasion, Oppel said.
With each firing team allowed one missile, Enokian and Oppel had only one chance to hit their target.
As the crew chief, Oppel's job was to track the unmanned aerial vehicle they were targeting, give directions to his gunner and tightly hold him so the recoil from firing the missile didn't land them flat on their backs. As the gunner, Enokian's job was to aim steady, get a lock on the UAV and pull the trigger.
While they hadn't fired an actual live missile before, they had trained on the Table Top system.
It's a computer simulator that allows Soldiers to virtually fire on a strikingly detailed interface, added Oppel.
The team excelled at using the Table Top simulator, one of many reasons why so many in their battery had the utmost confidence in their abilities on the range.
"[The Table Top system] is like a big arcade game," Enokian said.
Perhaps it's Enokian's love for video games that made the Table Top so easy for him to master. The Claremont, N.H., native, describes himself as "a nerd," saying he doesn't socialize very much and prefers playing video games or reading books to going out with friends.
While he's relatively quiet, his actions speak louder than his words ever could.
He scored a perfect 300 on his physical training test, which earned him praise from his unit for his strength and stamina.
When firing the M16 assault rifle he scored expert, the highest rifle qualification badge in the Army.
Enokian continues to excel as a Soldier. He competed in the Top Gun Competition, where gunners within his battalion battled against each other in events ranging from competency with a weapon to basic Soldier skills.
He swept the competition, and was named one of the top gunners in his battalion. As a 19-year-old Soldier new to the Army, the accomplishment brought a lot of positive attention from his peers and leaders.
Oppel, from Pensacola, Fla., is a family man with "a loving wife" and a newborn son, living "a happy lifestyle."
Like Enokian, Oppel is also known for his physical ability. He scored a 298 on his PT test. He was recently promoted to the rank of specialist, and his dedication to duty and expertise in his job field didn't go unnoticed.
Oppel's supervisors were so impressed they appointed him to the position of team chief.
Since Enokian is one of the most apt gunners in the battery and Oppel is a new team chief, their command saw them the best fit for a gun team.
When they got to the firing line, the tiny UAV was released over the range. The missile launcher emitted a high-pitched wailing noise that indicated it was locked on the target. Oppel started to say something when Enokian squeezed the trigger.
The Stinger blasted out of the launcher but passed the target, spiraling below the plane and away to explode in the vast emptiness of the desert. Oppel shook his head.
Right before Enokian pulled the trigger, Oppel was telling him to elevate the missile launcher.
Gravity takes a strong effect on the Stinger once it's fired. In order to correct its path the shooter has to "super elevate" the launcher so the Stinger can fall to its target. It's a basic step and one they know well, Oppel said.
"It's both of our first times on the line with a live missile, so there's a lot of nerves going on, but essentially what happened was he-" Oppel started, cut off by Enokian.
"Happy finger," Enokian said with a shake of his head.
"Exactly, he pulled the trigger too fast before he actually thought the process through in his head," said Oppel.
While they missed, they recognized their mistake. More importantly, they knew they wouldn't ever make that mistake again, which is an important lesson to learn during training
"Everybody's learning from their mistakes here," Oppel said.
Their platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Brian Mercado, understood this.
Next time, Mercado said "he'll perform outstanding. I have no doubt in Enokian, and his ability. If they could let us shoot another missile I'd tell him to go. He could do it."
Unfortunately, it will be a while before they get the chance. But that didn't put a damper on their experience.
The day prior, they hit an identical UAV with the .50 caliber machine gun, and, during the rest of the training rotation, they plan on doing their absolute best. The next day they're scheduled to be in an area where they'll have to conceal their gun truck.
"I intend on hiding the Avenger in all ways possible," Enokian said.
"We'll have live [UAVs] out there, scanning around looking for us," Oppel said. "It's going to show how tactical we can be with these vehicles."
Instead of wallowing in failure, they followed two key phrases stated in The Soldier's Creed and The Warrior Ethos: "I will never quit. I will never accept defeat."
Enokian plans on eventually becoming a commissioned officer in the Army, and Oppel intends to stay enlisted for 20 years and become a first sergeant someday. By that time, this will just be another training story for the two to tell.