US air defense unit takes up its post in Turkey
STUTTGART, Germany — The Germany-based 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, assumed command of the NATO-led air defense mission in Gaziantep, a Turkish city less than 75 miles from conflict zones in Syria.
During a transfer-of-authority ceremony Friday, the new U.S. commander in Gaziantep offered encouragement to the roughly 250 soldiers taking part in the mission.
“Continue to adapt to the dynamics of our mission and anticipate the challenges you may encounter,” Lt. Col. Lisa Bartel, commander of the 5th Battalion, told troops.
The unit, which includes two Patriot batteries, replaced soldiers from the U.S.-based 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery, which guarded the airspace above Gaziantep for the past year. Patriot batteries from Germany and the Netherlands also have extended their respective missions. Turkey requested NATO assistance in November 2012 after cross-border shellings killed several Turkish citizens, sparking concerns that the Syrian military might launch chemical-weapon attacks on Turkey.
Soon after that, U.S. troops from the 3-2 ADA received the no-notice mission to deploy to Turkey as part of the NATO effort. During its deployment, the unit never had to shoot down any missiles crossing into Turkey.
In the meantime, President Bashar Assad has agreed to allow the international community to destroy Syria’s entire chemical stockpile, lessening the likelihood of an attack on Turkey.
Nonetheless, Col. Gregory Brady, commander of the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, told soldiers to be ready for anything.
“Always remember, at the end of the day, there are over a million people in the city of Gaziantep ... depending on you to protect them against missiles across the border,” Brady said during Friday’s changeover ceremony.