June 25, 2002, 15:36 EDT

3rd Battalion, 111th Air Defense Artillery deploys
by Lt. Col. Chester C. Carter, III
Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Officer

A Stinger missile crew from 3rd Battalion, 111th Air Defense Artillery track a target will out over the Atlantic Ocean at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base range complex. (Photo Courtesy of the Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office)

CAMP LEJEUNE, NC - The soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 111th Air Defense Artillery had worked and trained all year for this day. Today seven Stinger missile crews will fire a Stinger missile from the beach at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base at a target well out over the Atlantic Ocean. But when the solders of 3rd Battalion, 111th Air Defense Artillery, which has units located in Portsmouth, Franklin, Onancock, and Suffolk, Va., "go to the range" there is a little more to it than going to the rifle range at Fort Pickett.

Only seven Stinger missile crews from the battalion had the opportunity to fire at the small targets flying back and forth about two kilometers from the shoreline. According to Master Sgt. Clifton Black, operations sergeant for the battalion, the Stinger crews work and compete throughout the year for the opportunity to fire a live missile at one of the small drone targets. The soldiers go through various crew drills and training and those with the best overall performance have the opportunity to participate in the live fire exercise. The best of the best went through a tightly controlled live fire exercise on the Camp Lejeune beach as the rest of the battalion watched from a safe distance.

But even as good as these seven Stringer crews are they worked and trained hard the morning of the live fire to make sure they were ready for the afternoon exercise. Staff Sgt. Jason Gray of Headquarters Battery located in Portsmouth, Va. oversees the morning training activity and makes sure the missile crews are ready for their fire mission. Gray tells the missile crews as they prepare to rehearse that what they are doing is "exactly how it's gonna go" during the live fire exercise.

The activity going on around Gray gives some insight to just how complex this training event is. Mr. Tuna Nguyen, a representative from Raytheon, the contractor for the Stinger missile is providing instruction to the missile crews that will fire that afternoon. In addition to providing assistance to the soldiers Nguyen will monitor the live fire from the range control tower. His efforts assure the soldiers are prepared for the training exercise and also provide direct feedback to Raytheon on the Stinger's performance.

John Golden's air force of targets sits on the beach at the Camp Lejeune range complex awaiting a mission in support of the 3rd Battalion, 111th Air Defense Artillery live fire exercise. (Photo Courtesy of the Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office)

Another contractor, Mr. John Golden of Continental RPVs in Barstow, Ca., goes about readying the aerial targets that will be used during the live fire. Golden said that what started out as a hobby in high school has now become his livelihood. He began flying model airplanes in high school and for the last ten years of working for RPVs he has had the opportunity to travel and support soldiers from around the World.

He said that RPVs works under a contract with the U S Army Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation Command, or STRICOM, to provide the targets the soldiers will shoot at this afternoon. He said that each target cost about $3,000 to construct but there were certainly other costs associated with his company providing this type of support. Golden said the target he would be flying today represented the Su-25, Frogfoot, which is similar to the US A-10 "Warthog." He went on to say the gasoline-powered engine creates a heat signature the gunner would lock on to when he aims the Stinger at the target. Golden said he would fly the target about two kilometers out over the Atlantic Ocean and then fly it back and forth parallel to the shoreline where the missile crew would be firing from. He said each target aircraft could stay on station about thirty minutes.

From his position high above the beach in the range control tower Maj. Raymon Hoeflein, the battalion operations officer, can see well out into the Atlantic as well as along the beach in both directions. Hoeflein provided some insight into all of the coordination that goes into a training event of this magnitude. He said the battalion traveled to Fort Bragg, NC for annual training and the soldiers that had been selected to fire and the soldiers operating the range traveled on to Camp Lejeune earlier in the week to prepare for the live fire. But before that could occur arrangements had to be made by the battalion staff through Virginia State Area Command staff sections.

The people in these sections made sure that ammunition was funded, the contract for aerial targets was coordinated, training areas that could accommodate the training event were reserved and that all the logistical support was in place to assure the success of training these soldiers. Even the coordination necessary to fire is a testament to the complexity of this training. Contact had to be made with Camp Lejeune range control, Marine Corps personnel at Cherry Point, NC and Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va. before the first missile could be fired.

As the contractors and range personnel go about their jobs making sure everything will be ready for the afternoon shoot the missile crews are also focusing on the upcoming event. Like the other missile crews, Private Jermaine Hargrove of Richmond and Specialist Keith Phelps of Suffolk rehearse each step they will go through when they go out to the firing line. They know how very hard they have worked to get to this point and they know they will have only one chance to knock the target out of the sky. They practice their battle drill procedures, how they will track the target and they are confident they will succeed in their mission. Sergeant Gray has rehearsed them. They know how they will drive their HUMVEE down the beach from the staging area, receive a radio message giving them a fire mission.

They will take their Stinger and move to the firing line and begin to look for a very small target well out over the ocean. Once they identify the target and the Stinger has picked up the heat signature from the drone the missile launcher will emit an audible tone indicating the missile has locked on to the target. The gunner will pull the trigger and send the missile racing out over the ocean toward a small object out in the distance. The missile will take about three to four seconds to travel from the shoreline to the target where it will explode on impact. This is what all of the work, effort, coordination and training is all about. Being "First to Fire" and bringing that target down.

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