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Deployed PATRIOT reload crew certifiably ready

SOUTHWEST ASIA - U.S. Army Sgt. Shantelle Campbell, signal person, directs crane operator Spc. Daniel Frederick during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. Campbell and Frederick are deployed with the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment from Fort Bragg, N.C.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - U.S. Army Sgt. Shantelle Campbell, signal person, directs crane operator Spc. Daniel Frederick during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. Campbell and Frederick are deployed with the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment from Fort Bragg, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - U.S. Army Pfc. Katlin Clements , crew member tag, from the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, tightens a canister in place on a heavy expandable mobile tactical truck during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. The five-solider missile reload team must reload a HEMTT with four new canisters within an hour to be considered proficient.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - U.S. Army Pfc. Katlin Clements , crew member tag, from the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, tightens a canister in place on a heavy expandable mobile tactical truck during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. The five-solider missile reload team must reload a HEMTT with four new canisters within an hour to be considered proficient. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Howard Clifford, safety NCO in charge crew chief, ensures the cable on the crane of a guided missile transporter is not tangled  as Pfc. Tiffany Sanchez and Sgt. Shantelle Campbell, missile reload crew members, hold it taught during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. The five-solider missile reload team, from the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, must reload a heavy expandable mobile tactical truck with four new canisters within an hour to be considered proficient.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Howard Clifford, safety NCO in charge crew chief, ensures the cable on the crane of a guided missile transporter is not tangled as Pfc. Tiffany Sanchez and Sgt. Shantelle Campbell, missile reload crew members, hold it taught during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. The five-solider missile reload team, from the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, must reload a heavy expandable mobile tactical truck with four new canisters within an hour to be considered proficient. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - Sweat beads on the face of U.S. Army Pfc. Tiffany Sanchez, crew member tag, as she tightens a canister in place during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. Sanchez is part of the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment deployed from Fort Bragg, N.C.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - Sweat beads on the face of U.S. Army Pfc. Tiffany Sanchez, crew member tag, as she tightens a canister in place during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. Sanchez is part of the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment deployed from Fort Bragg, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - Members of the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, transfer canisters during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. The five-solider missile reload team must reload a heavy expandable mobile tactical truck with four new canisters within an hour to be considered proficient.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - Members of the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, transfer canisters during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. The five-solider missile reload team must reload a heavy expandable mobile tactical truck with four new canisters within an hour to be considered proficient. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - U.S. Army Spc. Daniel Frederick, crane operator, fits a ratchet on a pole during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. Frederick is part of the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment deployed from Fort Bragg, N.C.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - U.S. Army Spc. Daniel Frederick, crane operator, fits a ratchet on a pole during a missile reload certification Aug. 4, 2012. Frederick is part of the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment deployed from Fort Bragg, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott MacKay)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- While Airmen of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing deliver decisive airpower in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, soldiers deployed here are also defending the region.

The Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, from Fort Bragg, N.C., is here protecting the AOR with the Army PATRIOT (Phased Array Tracking Intercept of Target) missile system.

"(The PATRIOT's mission is) one of the highest priorities in this area of operations," said 1st Sgt. Aaron Wheeler, 1-7 ADA first sergeant. "The Air Force, the pilots, they need to know that when their aircraft is stationary that they are safe from any missile threat or any air threat that could come in and impact their operation."

Should the PATRIOTs be called into action, it is unknown how many missiles will be needed for the fight. As each launcher only holds four canisters, it's highly likely that the launcher will require a reload. This responsibility falls to each battery's missile reload crews.

"The quicker we can provide new missiles to the launchers, the quicker we're going to be able to engage the target and be able to defend and neutralize the enemy in this area," said Staff Sgt. Howard Clifford, 1-7 ADA master gunner and missile reload crew 1 safety NCO in charge.

In addition to Clifford's position, each crew consists of four other members - two tags, a signal and a crane operator. All work together to ensure canisters are moved from a guided missile transporter to a launcher as quickly and safely as possible.

To do this, each crew has to be certified. Crews are certified after 90 days from receiving a new team member, and every 180 days after that.

"When a reload crew goes through a certification, that is my commander's and my way of telling our higher headquarters that these individuals are ready to assume duties as Patriot operators in wartime operations," Wheeler said. "It's extremely important that these guys are certified and can do their job."

Crew 1 recently received two new tag members and required their 90-day certification.

"We have a total of an hour. Within that hour we need to be finished with putting all four cans on the launcher and pull the beam that we carry the missiles with back on to the GMT," Clifford said. "We did ours in 53 minutes which is a good, solid time. We didn't miss any points. We didn't lose control of any of the cans at any point and we didn't miss any steps in the procedures."

Sgt. Shantelle Campbell, missile reload crew 1 signal, said she was happy with the certification process and the team's results.

"It definitely exceeded my expectations due to the fact we have two (new) crew members, however with the training that we've been doing, they've been showing that they're able to step up and perform the way we expect them to," Campbell said.

She said the team made a few mistakes, but was able to regroup and recover from them quickly.

"We're real resilient; the guys didn't get down on themselves," she said. "We just held it together as a crew and that's exactly what we're supposed to do."

Consistent training is what prepares the crews for these certifications and keeps them ready to perform their mission.

"You never know when something's going to happen; tomorrow we could have all hell break loose and if we're not training, we're not going to know what to do," Clifford said.

Wheeler said Clifford is one of his most experienced trainers.

"The soldiers he has on his crew ... this is their first duty assignment, first deployment," Wheeler said. "They stepped up and performed well above expectations. To run a flawless crew drill in the time they did is very unique."

Crew 1 is also 60 percent female, which is also rare.

"I've been in the Patriot MOS (military occupational specialty) for 17 years now," Wheeler said. "It's the first time in my 17 years I've been in an organization where we've had three females on a reload crew. It just doesn't happen that often."

Campell said she thinks being a mostly-female crew could be influential to other ladies.

"I think the dynamics of this crew are very important to show, especially in showing our capabilities," Campbell said. "Hopefully it is an inspiration to other females who may want to join the military and maybe want to do what we do."

"I'm proud of my crew, I'm proud of my two female tags and I'm proud of the job that we did today," Campbell added.

Whether male or female, Air Force or Army, people assigned here work together to get the mission done.

"The Air Force supports us really well here, and at the same time we support them the best we can in providing them defense so they can feel safe whenever they're (not) flying their airplanes," Clifford said. "This is probably the best deployment I've been on as far as cohesiveness and joint operability."