Army activates space defense battalion in Alaska

By Maj. Laura Kennedy

FORT GREELY, Alaska(Army News Service, Jan. 30, 2004)—A component of the nation’s emerging missile defense system stood up Jan. 22 when the Missile Defense Space Battalion was formally activated at Fort Greely, Alaska.

The battalion will provide operational control and security over ground-based interceptors located in Alaska to protect the nation from limited ballistic missile attacks. Alaska National Guard Soldiers will man the battalion as part of their homeland defense mission.

Heralded as the first ground-based midcourse defense battalion, the unit was activated in a ceremony co-hosted by its parent organizations, the Space and Missile Defense Command and the Alaska National Guard.

Maj. Gen. Larry J. Dodgen, SMDC commanding general and Air Force Brig. Gen. Craig E. Campbell, adjutant general for Alaska’s National Guard, hosted the ceremony which centered on the unfurling of the new battalion’s colors. Governor of Alaska Frank Murkowski was the keynote speaker.

    “I am intensely proud of the role our state will play as the first line of defense for our nation,” said Murkowski. “Having served as a senator, and on the Intelligence Committee, I am very well aware of the need for a missile defense system to defend our nation and our allies. To the soldiers of this battalion, I say that you have the highest calling possible, and I pledge to you Alaska’s full support for your vitally important mission.”

which at full-authorized strength will number 110 Soldiers,

The battalion is part of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo. The brigade operates the first part of the integrated Ballistic Missile Defense System, which, in concert with sister services, is designed to protect the nation from accidental or intentional limited ballistic missile attacks.

The brigade is staffed largely by Colorado guardsmen, with a small contingent of active-duty soldiers. The units have dual reporting chains – operationally to SMDC, and, for personnel issues, to their respective state Guard channels.

Campbell held the staff of the new unit’s colors as the battalion’s Command Sgt. Maj. David Masullo ceremoniously unsheathed the new flag, then slowly unfurled the blue and gold colors emblazoned with the unit’s name and the SMDC eagle.

Dodgen said, “I have stood guard in Germany and Korea, as I’m sure every person in this room who’s ever worn a uniform has stood guard. The mission of the unit we’re activating today is to stand guard on the frontline of homeland defense. I know they will do us proud. Theirs is an uncompromising mission – they cannot fail. I know they are up to the task.”

The system is scheduled to be operational this fall, by presidential directive. The timeline was expedited due to the events of Sept. 11, and officials expect to meet the accelerated deployment date.

GMD is designed to attack and kill any incoming missile in the “middle” phase or “midcourse” of its trajectory, after the boost or launch, and before it reaches re-entry to impact, therefore destroying that missile in space. Working closely with early warning architecture, provided in part by the Air Force and the Navy’s Aegis missile cruisers, GMD will launch a booster missile toward a target’s predicted location releasing a “kill vehicle” on the path of an incoming target, officials said. They explained that the kill vehicle uses data from the ground-based radars and its own on-board sensor to collide with the target.

Currently, the system’s operators are involved in intensive training in Colorado, and plan to move to Alaska this summer. Military policemen are currently on post protecting the developing site, and have been on guard since September. The National Guard men and women who comprise the battalion are all volunteers on three-year active Guard tours. The majority were not Alaska natives, but they face the rigors of the remote site with a mixture of excitement and fortitude.

    “Our mission is in many ways similar to those of the soldiers in Iraq. We are not facing the enemy directly, but he is out there, be it through terrorism, subversion, espionage or direct attack," said military policeman and platoon leader 2nd Lt. Phil Turner.

    “We take our job of securing this site, and protecting our nation, very seriously. If the remoteness of this site lends to its protection, and it does, then that’s a good thing. There are many things to enjoy in Alaska, and our families for the most part are looking forward to facing the adventures with us,” said Turner, who has 15 years of prior enlisted service in the infantry before volunteering for this mission.

The commander of the new battalion, Maj. (P) Greg Bowen, said, “We have long days behind us, to have gotten this far, and long days ahead. Standing up any new unit is a significant challenge, but standing up a first-of-its kind unit is an even bigger challenge. We have the excellent services of Boeing and other contractors – thousands of people working to help us in the mission of defending our nation. Be assured, we are on watch, we will not fail.”

(Editor’s note: Maj. Laura Kenney is a member of U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command Public Affairs.)