KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The U.S. Army has established what it says is its first command-level air and missile defense unit based in Europe.
“This unit gives us the additional capability and capacity to oversee and assist with execution and coordination of ballistic missile defense from the European theater,” said Maj. Gen. James C. Boozer Sr., U.S. Army Europe deputy commander and chief of staff, said of the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command.
The 357th Air and Missile Defense Detachment was redesignated in October, but the unit’s soldiers symbolically ushered in the new mission Thursday with a casing of the old unit’s flag and the uncasing of the 10th AAMDC’s colors; and with the help of Velcro, they attached in near unison the new unit patch on their uniforms.
The unit is expected to grow from 125 to about 150 soldiers by February, officials said, as it brings in more experts who will play a vital role in the planning and execution of President Barack Obama’s “phased adaptive approach” to missile defense, aimed at deterring potential missile strikes from Iran.
No one mentioned Iran specifically during or after the ceremony.
“Ballistic missile defense, no matter where they (missiles) come from, is critical to both European allies and the United States, and this is the unit that does it for us,” said Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, USAREUR commander, after the ceremony. Standing up the 10th AAMCD is USAREUR’s way of “evolving to meet the current threats in today’s environment,” he said.
In an earlier interview, the 10th AAMDC commander, Army Col. Stephen J. Richmond, said the unit was formed in response to a growing ballistic missile threat to Europe originating from the Middle East.
“It’s absolutely essential that as the threats continue to expand, the EUCOM (area of operation) have this capability,” he said.
The need for a joint-service and coalition response to missile defense is the reason that the former air and missile defense detachment became a command-level unit, Richmond said.
Richmond and other soldiers from his unit, in conjunction with the other services, will advise the theater’s missile defense decision-makers, said Lt. Col. Ben Ogden, 10th AAMDC chief of staff, and could offer recommendations, for example, on how to defend certain assets or areas from a ballistic missile attack.
“Missile defense is a joint operation. Every service has a part,” he said.
The 10th AAMDC oversees USAREUR’s one remaining Patriot unit, the 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery, also based at Rhine Ordnance Barracks. The 10th AAMDC also assists with the manning of radars and managing missile defense sensors, Boozer said.
“Right now, soldiers are up to their necks in snow, building a shield for Europe on a remote mountain top,” Boozer said in remarks at the ceremony, without elaborating.
In September, Turkey agreed to host a U.S. early-warning missile defense radar, according to NATO and U.S. officials.
After the ceremony, Boozer said he couldn’t disclose the radar station’s location.
“We’ve got a radar site that we’ve had in Israel and there’s another radar site going on now, but I can’t get into the details,” he said.