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'A no-fail mission': Colorado Springs unit marks 15 years as the nation's missile shield

Col. Gary Baumann, left, the first commander of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade, accepts the brigade's flag from U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Joseph M. Cosumano, Jr., commanding general, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, during the activation ceremony of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade Oct. 16, 2003, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

JOSEPH VONNIDA/U.S. ARMY

By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: October 27, 2018

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — A Colorado Springs unit that calls itself “the 300 defending the 300 million” celebrated its 15th birthday with a small ceremony Friday.

Most people have never heard of the Colorado National Guard’s 100th Missile Defense Brigade, and that’s fine with its leaders. Its lack of fame is a symbol of success: No one has tried to launch a nuclear missile targeting the United States.

“This has been and continues to be a no-fail mission,” said Col. Kevin Kick, the brigade’s commander.

The brigade was conceived in the wake of the 9/11 attack as leaders feared that terror groups or rogue nations could gain the ability to hit America with an intercontinental ballistic missile. The mission to stop such an attack went to the National Guard, in part because the Guard has a traditional role in defending the homeland, and in part because the Guard, with its 50-state presence, has political pull that other branches of the military do not.

The presence of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Army Space and Missile Defense Command in the shadow of Pikes Peak landed most of the unit here. But the 100th Brigade, which got its designation thanks to Colorado’s status as the Centennial State, has detachments spread across the nation and the planet.

The brigade has its headquarters in a nondescript office building off Powers Boulevard, but its soldiers do much of their work at Schriever Air Force Base.

From Schriever, they control interceptor missiles at bases in California and Alaska. It is one of the National Guard’s few full-time units with soldiers on duty 24 hours a day, every day.

Using radar and other sensors around the globe, the system is designed to knock down enemy warheads in space as they streak toward the United States. Leaders compare it to hitting a bullet with a bullet, if both bullets were travelling at nearly 18,000 mph.

The difficulty of the job has been painfully demonstrated over the years with test failures interspersed with spectacular successes.

Brig. Gen. Greg Bowen, one of the first officers in the 100th Brigade, said the worst results have led to the biggest improvements.

“We learn more from failure than we do from success,” he said.

But by the time the nation’s missile shield faced its biggest test — a series of North Korean rocket launches in 2017 amid escalating threats — the 100th showed it was ready.

A Colorado Springs-based crew guided an interceptor toward a test missile launched from a Pacific island. The result was the first successful intercept of an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile in space.

“We’re extremely proud of that,” Kick said.

Bowen, who now works as the top missile defense office at U.S. Strategic Command in Nebraska, said the 100th Brigade soldiers proved their abilities just in time.

“I think the brigade has a bright future,” he said. “The threats we face are evolving and growing more challenging all the time.”

©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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