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Air Defense Artillery Battalion Maintains Combat Proficiency During COVID-19

May 8, 2020 | BY Dani Johnson

With the mission of providing short-range air defense, the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, or 5-4 ADAR, continues to train to maintain combat proficiency on  Shipton Kaserne, Ansbach, Germany, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To operate an Avenger, a self-propelled short-range air defense missile system, the assigned air and missile defense crew members must maintain a Table 8 certification.

A soldier loads a missile into a short-range air defense missile system.
Stinger Missile
Army Pfc. Alfredo Benitez, an air and missile defense crew member with 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command, loads a Stinger missile onto an Avenger short-range air defense missile system on Shipton Kaserne, Ansbach, Germany, during training, April 30, 2020. The crews are maintaining their combat proficiency in a COVID-19 environment.
Photo By: Dani Johnson, Army
VIRIN: 200430-A-ER536-007

Training for Avenger crew members is divided into 10 tables, or steps. Army Lt. Col. Todd Daniels, the commander of 5-4 ADAR, explained that the tables are organized in a tiered system, with each table progressively more challenging and complex than the previous one. Soldiers must pass each table until they reach Table 8, which certifies them as a team able to employ their Avenger in combat.

''We are replicating everything the crews would do on a live-fire range, minus them actually firing live rounds,'' said Army Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Richardson, the battalion master gunner. ''According to our gunnery training circular, every table that these crews had to do prior to going to a live fire are being accomplished in this [COVID-19] environment right now.''

Soldiers load a missile into a short-range air defense missile system.
Stinger Handoff
Army Sgt. Pedro Aponte hands a Stinger missile to Army Pfc. Alfredo Benitez to load onto an Avenger short-range air defense missile system on Shipton Kaserne, Ansbach, Germany, April. 30, 2020. Both are air and missile crew members with 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command. The crews are maintaining their combat proficiency in a COVID-19 environment.
Photo By: Dani Johnson, Army
VIRIN: 200430-A-ER536-006

Richardson said the only challenge to social distancing is when the crews have to pass the Stinger missiles to each other when loading the Avenger. This challenge has changed the way some master gunners train.

''I can't get in there with my hands and show them,'' Rchardson said. ''I can voice it and have them replicate what I'm telling them.''

When it comes to training, creating a sense of realism can be the biggest challenge.

Soldiers ready a short-range air defense missile system.
Avenger Ready
Army air and missile defense crew members with the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command, ready their Avenger short-range air defense missile systems on Shipton Kaserne, Ansbach, Germany, prior to conducting training, April 30, 2020. The crews are maintaining their combat proficiency in a COVID-19 environment.
Photo By: Dani Johnson, Army
VIRIN: 200504-A-ER536-001

''I get it. [The Avenger tabletop trainer is]  kind of like a video game, so the level of urgency might not be there,'' said Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Long, the Charlie Battery master gunner. ''What we did was design new scenarios on the tabletop trainers to make it a little more difficult, a little more realistic, so these guys can get some quality training, and it’s not a 'check the block' thing.''

Improving crew proficiency while maintaining combat power is the battalion's ultimate goal despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

A soldier loads ammo into a magazine.
200430-A-ER536-002
Army Pfc. Alexander Miller, an air and missile defense crew member assigned to 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command, loads M3P .50-caliber machine gun ammunition into a magazine on Shipton Kaserne, Ansbach, Germany, prior to conducting training, April 30, 2020. The crews are maintaining their combat proficiency in a COVID-19 environment.
Photo By: Dani Johnson, Army
VIRIN: 200430-A-ER536-002

''It's still getting us spun up on the stuff that we need to know, and we get a lot more time to work on the [tabletop trainer],'' said Army Sgt. Emmanuel Hopkins, an air and missile defense crew member with Charlie Battery. ''So once we get out on a real Avenger system, it's pretty much the same thing, and we know exactly what to do. It's great practice especially for the new guys just getting hands on. Mistakes can be made now [before a live fire].''

Daniels said he is extremely proud of how the units are continuing to train in this new environment.

Soldiers ready a short-range air defense missile system.
Missile Training
Army air and missile defense crew members with the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command, ready their Avenger short-range air defense missile systems on Shipton Kaserne, Ansbach, Germany, prior to conducting training, April 30, 2020. The crews are maintaining their combat proficiency in a COVID-19 environment.
Photo By: Dani Johnson, Army
VIRIN: 200430-A-ER536-001

''They continually find new and creative ways to not only maintain their units' readiness, but actually improve it,'' he said. ''While our opportunities for collective training with other units were delayed due to COVID-19, we maximized the time to improve our soldiers' lethality at the individual and crew level while minimizing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 through employment of appropriate force health protection measures.''

(Dani Johnson is assigned to U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach.)