Soldiers from 1-58th Airfield Operations Battalion lit up the Alabama sky like the 4th of July last week as part of their final predeployment field training exercise here.

New solar-powered runway lights that can be controlled by pilots and by control tower personnel were put to the test April 29 for the first time since the 1-58th received the equipment a few months ago.

The new lights replace battery-powered "beanbag lights" that have been used to light up runways in tactical environments for the last several years.
"The exercise went very well," Sgt. 1st Class Jemar Ford, 1-58th air traffic control facility chief, said. "The lights lit up the whole neighborhood."

The 1-58th AOB, which specializes in tactical airfield operations, is the first unit in the Department of Defense to field the new runway lights, according to Ford.

"These lights are brighter, more mobile, more durable and they have a lot more functions," he said. "They are very user friendly."

The solar runway lights rollout was just one of several activities 1-58th Soldiers focused on during last week's field exercise, which ran from April 29-May 2 at Hatch and High Falls stage fields. In addition to the solar light test, the Soldiers also worked on controlling aircraft from their tactical airfield equipment and refined deployment skills including how to respond to different threat levels and how to react to indirect fire.

The four-day exercise was a first for the unit that stood up just 10 months ago and engaged all of the AOB's deployable Soldiers and most of the equipment the team will use during their upcoming deployment, according to the unit's commander, Lt. Col. David Rude.

"This is the first time we could get all the widgets working together," he said.
The unit's senior noncommissioned officer, Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Bolden, said the field exercise showcased all the hard work the Soldiers have done since 1-58th uncased their colors less than one year ago.

"To be able to bring the entire battalion of deployable personnel out here as one team and have no problems, you couldn't ask for anything better," he said. "You couldn't ask for a better team."

Master Sgt. Jeremy Payton, 1-58th air traffic control chief, said the "AOB is definitely a success story."

"This is the most successful (field training exercise) I have been a part of in 16 years," he said.

Payton said the success of last week's exercise can be credited in part to the fact the unit has three pilots available to help them refine their airfield skills.
"One of the reasons we are so successful in the battalion is we have three current and qualified pilots, Capt. Jack Stewart, Maj. Harold Whiffen and Capt. James Dougherty, who can come out here and give us the aircraft movements we need to get the Air Traffic Services guys qualified," Payton said.

Payton added that his section sergeants are some of the best he has ever seen and also contribute greatly to the unit's success.

"The success of this exercise shows that (those section sergeants) are doing their jobs, taking care of their Soldiers, taking care of their equipment and taking care of the mission," he said.

The 1-58th is scheduled to depart for Kuwait in mid-summer and Ford said his team is ready for whatever deployment challenges await them.

"We're ready, we've been ready," he said. "This exercise just (confirms) that we are ready to go."

The 1-58th will be the first AOB to deploy since the Army reorganized its Air Traffic Services. Rude said his team will work throughout their upcoming deployment to validate and refine their standard operating procedures to ensure those who come after them will have a good framework for success.
"We'll set the bar high," Bolden said. "Anyone else who (deploys) after us will know we set the standard and they will have to follow us."