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NEWS | Dec. 13, 2006

Army Guard takes charge of Capital region's air defense

By Staff Sgt. W. Michael Houk National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON - The South Carolina Army National Guard has assumed command and control of the air defense mission for the National Capital Region (NCR) from the active Army.

The South Carolina Guard's 263rd Army Air Missile Defense Command, or AAMDC, took over what is known as Operation Clear Skies from the active Army's 32nd AAMDC stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, during a “relief in place” ceremony at Bolling Air Force Base in late November.

The Guard has provided the air defense artillery units, the manpower, for the mission to safeguard Washington under the command of the active Army since the terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Now it is charge of the entire operation.

South Carolina's 2nd Battalion, 263rd Air Defense Artillery, which has manned the missiles since November of 2005, has passed that responsibility to the Ohio Army Guard's 2nd Battalion, 174th ADA.

The Ohio battalion specializes in firing missiles from the Stinger and Avenger systems at moving aerial targets. Its wartime mission is to provide low altitude air defense protection against enemy weapons such as fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and cruise missiles.

Operation Clear Skies was the name of a joint exercise that transformed into a tangible operation as a result of the 9/11 attacks, according to South Carolina Army Guard Maj. Marion Collins.

“ ‘Clear Skies’ is the name of a series of air defense exercises and operations conducted by joint and inter-agency entities in coordination with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the armed forces,” Collins said.

“Our inclusion and participation in this integrated air defense operation at the request of NORAD and the Department of Defense is indicative of the significant contribution of the air and missile defense force performing air security and defeating any future aerial threats to our nation,” he added.

Brig. Gen. Frances Mahon, commander of the 32nd AAMDC, said the mission is well suited to the Guard.

“I think it's significant from the aspect that we've come full circle of where we were. You go back to the Cold War, the early era, the National Guard was integral for the defense of the homeland,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Harry Burchstead Jr., commander of the 263rd AAMDC from South Carolina, explained that Operation Clear Skies is a joint mission involving inter-service coordination across a huge geographic area spanning the continental NORAD region, which is the lower 48 states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.”

“The reserve component Soldiers went to the same kind of training the active component guys did in the early Mission Readiness Exercises. They've validated the skill sets and they're performing the mission.” Mahon said. “You wear two hats. You spin it one way, you're a reserve component. You spin it the other way, you're an active component based on the action in front of you.”

“You will take home with you skills that you could not have developed during inactive duty training or during an annual training period and use these skills repeatedly over the rest of your careers,” Col. Frank Laudano of South Carolina's 2nd Battalion, 263rd ADA told his Soldiers.

“From the National Guard perspective," Burchstead added, "I think this is a very important testament to the professionalism we have in the National Guard which has stepped up to the plate since 9/11.”