By Linda D. Kozaryn American Forces Press Service
25 March 1999 RIYADH AIR BASE, Saudi Arabia -- From a distance, they look like railroad boxcars tipped on end and pointed toward the sky. These rectangular Patriot missile launchers may not resemble any of the sleek, advanced weaponry in the U.S. arsenal, but they serve the same defensive purpose. U.S. Army Patriot missile crews protect U.S. and coalition air bases and facilities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other sites in the Persian Gulf. Often within 100 miles of Iraq, they scan the skies watching for possible Scud missiles and other forms of air attack. U.S.-based Patriot units rotate in and out of the Gulf, providing high- and medium-altitude defense against aircraft and tactical ballistic missiles. From early October to mid-March, a task force from 2nd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Fort Bliss, Texas, manned two active Patriot batteries in Saudi Arabia and two in Kuwait. A fifth, inactive battery is stored at the Saudis' Prince Sultan Air Base. Each Patriot battery has a fire unit, equipped with radar, an engagement control system, an electric power plant, communications antennas and eight remotely located launching stations. Each boxcar-like launch station has four ready-to-fire missiles sealed in canisters that are both shipping containers and launch tubes. The real-world mission was a training bonanza for the air defense battalion, according to task force commander Lt. Col. Heidi V. Brown of El Paso, Texas. "From a training perspective, you can't beat this," she said at Patriot Tactical Site 4 here March 6. "My battalion has been able to do a lot of great training over here, as well as participate in Operations Desert Fox and Desert Thunder." The battalion's air defense crews also reacted to reports of an actual Iraqi missile launch, Brown said. "There was a multiple launch out of northern Iraq about a month or so ago," she said. "We have an indicator inside my operations center that captured the event. It sent an alert to us that was followed by an announcement over the Central Command execution net that something had happened. All of my batteries in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait came up and waited to find out what the launch was and where the impact was. As it turned out, it was not a Scud launch against anybody." During the deployment, battalion officials subjected two-man Patriot "hot crews" to no-notice drills day and night during 24- hour shifts, Brown said. Every day, the crews practiced putting launchers into operation. Each 24-hour shift was followed by an eight-hour training and maintenance cycle. Then, crewmen moved back to billets at nearby Eskan Village for 36 to 40 hours of down time. The deployment was the battalion's third since the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, Brown noted. Some of the battalion soldiers were on their sixth tour in the Gulf, she said. "From a family standpoint, it's very difficult, but we've got great families and a great family support network back at Fort Bliss," the commander stressed. "I've got great family readiness group leaders and great spouses who are very supportive of what their husbands and wives do. It has made the entire deployment, even over the holiday season, a very successful one -- very palatable from both the soldiers' and families' perspective." D Battery, 2nd Bn., 43rd ADA Regiment, commanded by Capt. Sheldon D. Horsfall of Clay Center, Kansas, manned the eight- launcher Patriot site at Riyadh Air Base. He said the deployment provided an opportunity for some focused training. "Our threat in the area is tactical ballistic missiles, primarily from Iraq, although Iran could pose a secondary threat to us, and we have the ability to deal with that if required," Horsfall told Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, who visited the site March 6. "We do have the ability to provide an on- order, anti-aircraft defense of Riyadh Air Base also. We're prepared to do either of those two missions." The main threat on the ground is terrorism, Horsfall added. C Company, 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Fort Bragg, N.C., provides security. "Our mission is to secure the site, to protect U.S. personnel and equipment from terrorist attack," said Staff Sgt. Maurice Parker. "It's a good mission. We have the opportunity to train, and it gives us a different outlook on the missions we might have. They keep us up on what's going on [with Iraq] and we stay at a high state of readiness." With the infantry providing their security, Patriot crews focus on their jobs, according to D Battery's 1st Lt. Gary Lee, of Coalgate, Okla. "Once we come on site, all we have to do is our air defense mission," he said. "It's been a great opportunity to train. You don't have to worry about post details, cleanup, the various other things you normally do back at home station." During Cohen's visit, Patriot crew members Pfc. Robert Sumlin, of Moss Point, Miss., and Spc. Jonathan Pavlovsky, of Alvin, Texas, ran a drill showing how they power up a launcher and get it ready for action. Both soldiers echoed the unit's prevailing theme. Duty at the desert site, Pavlovsky said, "is better than back at Bliss because we actually learn our job real well here."
|U.S. Army and Kuwaiti Patriot missile crewmen set up a launch station in Kuwait. Spc. Patrick Curtin|
|Pvt. Samuel Clark, left, and Sgt. Ross Brothers maneuver a Patriot missile launch station data link terminal into place. The two soldiers, members of D Battery, Task Force 2-43, 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, Fort Bliss, Texas, are on duty in Saudi Arabia. Spc. Patrick Curtin|