CAMP CASEY, South Korea — In war, soldiers don’t have the luxury of heading back to base to fetch equipment they leave behind, a lesson hammered home to 2nd Infantry Division soldiers during an exercise at Camp Casey.
Soldiers from 2nd ID’s Battery D, 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment awoke at 4 a.m. Wednesday for a Battery Readiness Exercise designed to test the unit’s ability to transition to war.
After the early wake-up, Battery D loaded up 36 Avenger vehicles, drew weapons from the arms room, then convoyed to a camp parking lot.
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Chris Spillman said the battery was inspected “from A to Z” to check such things as vehicle and communications equipment serviceability.
Nearby Sentinel Radar, used by the unit to track aircraft, spun on its trailer, sending data to the Avengers while soldiers laid out and accounted for their personal combat gear.
Going to war is a little like going camping, but in war there’s no going back if you forget an essential piece of equipment, Spillman said.
“Once we roll out the gate and go to war positions, we are not coming back. We are going out to support the division. The most important thing is to ensure that we are uploaded with all our required wartime equipment and that is in good order,” he said.
Avenger team chief Pfc. Thomas Alt is in charge of a vehicle armed with eight Stinger missiles and a .50 caliber machinegun.
“We use the missiles to shoot at aircraft and the .50 cal for ground targets,” he said.
In the field, Avenger crews camouflage their vehicles then position themselves a short distance away with a remote control unit that allows them to operate the weapon systems. Alt said his crew was ready to go when the exercise began.
“We have a pack list and it only takes 15 minutes to half an hour to get ready,” he said.
West Point Cadet Dan Lao — in South Korea for training — received his first taste of life as an air defense artilleryman.
“It is amazing technology. This is my first time being hands on with the unit,” he said.
Lao wants to be an engineer but said air defense artillery is often attached to infantry protecting engineers in the field.
Another soldier participating in the exercise, 4th Platoon’s Sgt. Edmund Hoffman, said his unit is called the “Bone Crushers” because: “We are going to crush all the bones that are flying toward us.”
The exercise allows soldiers to practice their wartime mission and though the Avengers don’t get as much press as Patriot missile batteries, their crews have an exciting job, Hoffman said.
“They are on the front line performing not just air defense, but also acting as forward observers, cavalry scouts and field medics,” he said.
The Avengers are much more effective air defense tools than the old anti-aircraft guns, such as the Quad 50, which consisted of four .50 caliber machineguns with a gunner sitting between them, he said.
“A bullet is dumb. It is going to go where you aim it. The Stinger will lock onto a target and go wherever that target goes. Flares and other heat sources can fool Soviet-style missiles. We are talking about technology that won’t be fooled by that,” Hoffman said.