FORT GREELY, Alaska – Alaska Army National Guard Soldiers of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion (Ground-based Midcourse Defense) showcased their resiliency and readiness during exercise Guardian Watch Oct. 31-Nov. 3.
Soldiers responded to a series of mock threats to the missile defense complex as part of their mission-essential tasks related to maintaining installation security and preparing for the execution of ground-based midcourse defense.
The scenarios included medical emergencies, unmanned aerial system attacks, opposing forces breaching the fences to the missile defense complex and insider threats — all events that can occur without warning.
Seventeen Soldiers from 100th Missile Defense Brigade, Colorado Army National Guard, evaluated Soldiers from the 49th GMD on 16 tasks.
“Exercises like these are so important because we are not only being evaluated on our mission essential tasks (METs) but on how we are responding,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Stutz, 49th GMD commander. “They will be looking at if we are making timely decisions and thinking through our decisions.”
Like all military units, these Soldiers must train to maintain proficiency in their METs. However, the battalion faces a challenge that makes it difficult to set aside extra time to train.
“Because of our no-fail, 365 days-a-year operation, we do not have the luxury to focus on training outside of the missile defense complex, so we have to train there while we are on mission,” said Stutz. “But this gives our evaluators a chance to see us perform in both areas.”
The Alaska Army National Guard’s 49th GMD resides at Fort Greely but takes mission directives from the 100th MDB out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Administratively, they fall under 38th Troop Command, Alaska Army National Guard.
The 100th MDB’s primary mission is to defend the homeland against long-range ballistic missile attacks. It is the only unit in the Army with this mission, and a substantial part of that is executed by the 49th GMD.
The 49th GMD conducts two missions: ground-based midcourse defense controlled by a fire direction center from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery and missile defense complex security by military police from Company A.
These military police Soldiers secure the missile defense complex where most of the nation’s ground-based interceptors are set underground. The fire direction center controls the tactical-level execution of ground-based midcourse defense with oversight from the 100th MDB.
For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Soldiers of the 49th GMD work tirelessly to keep this presidential-assigned mission going.
Carrying the responsibilities of such an essential mission can take its toll, but the battalion Soldiers handle the pressure with pride and fortitude.
Stutz said exercises like this are important for his Soldiers to learn to ‘embrace the suck,’ as the popular Army phrase goes.
“These Soldiers eat it up. When things get harder, they step up to the plate,” he said. “A lot of that I can attribute to their sense of purpose. Their resiliency ties into their sense of purpose.”
Staff Sgt. Kevin Santos, a squad leader with Company A, 49th GMD, has been with the battalion since 2017. He extended his stay with the battalion when his initial three-year tour ended.
“I stayed [with 49th GMD] because the career opportunities here are great,” he said. “I also have great leadership that helped me progress as a Soldier, and that’s what keeps me here.”
Their performance does not go unnoticed. Four Soldiers from the battalion were recognized as 2022 Alaska Missile Defenders of the Year, seven were named Top Missile Defense Crew for 2022, and one Soldier won the Ted Stevens Memorial Award.
Two battalion Soldiers were “Soldier of the Year” and “Noncommissioned Officer of the Year” during the 2022 Alaska Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition.
These achievements demonstrate the resiliency and readiness of the 49th GMD Soldiers in extreme, sub-arctic conditions.
“Overall, I’ve seen a lot of improvement throughout the years,” said former 49th GMD Soldier Sgt. Joseph LaCroix, an exercise evaluator from the 100th MDB. “They have a lot of motivation and dedication. The way they are heading now shows that they are going to become one of the greatest units in the National Guard.”