Sand blew and engines roared as a Patriot missile battery deployed to White Sands Missile Range as part of an emergency readiness deployment exercise June 19.
The exercise made use of the range’s Space Harbor airfield up in the gypsum fields and dunes that gives WSMR its name. C-17 transport planes loaded at Fort Bliss’ Biggs Army Airfield with all the major components needed to deploy a Patriot missile battery, and then flew to WSMR, where the equipment and personnel unloaded and set up the system like they would a battery in the field.
“In the era of persistent conflict the need for a rapidly deployable force, especially air and missile defense, is essential,” said Capt. Greg Woods, a battery commander with the 2nd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment. “So the ability to establish a (missile) site in the desert and fly in equipment is necessary for future conflicts and the readiness of our unit.”
While exercises like this are fairly common among rapidly deployable forces, this one, in addition to being a Patriot missile battery, also brought in a coalition element. Air Defense soldiers from the Dutch Army joined their American counterparts and assisted in the setting up and operation of the battery.
“We’re from Europe and in Europe we also have the Patriot system, and we have an exchange officer over here, and he made it possible for us to come over here and do combined training,” said Sgt. Maj. Edwin Bekker, from the Army of Holland. “I’m very glad the American Army invited us to come over here.”
The Dutch military, while smaller than the U.S. military, makes use of many of the same systems, including the Patriot missile system. By conducting joint training the different militaries can not only work together, but also use the opportunity to compare their techniques and procedures and possibly find better ways of doing things.
“The procedures the Americans use are different from how we work and a lot of things are better and some things we do differently, so we can ask each other ‘is it better?”’ said Lt. Tommie Couwenberg, a Patriot tactical control officer from the Army of Holland.
As members of NATO, and co-participants in various coalition missions over the years, the exercise presented an opportunity for the different militaries to work together and compare techniques.
“Most of all, the collaboration with the Americans, learning their procedures, learning about their actions and work, that’s a very big learning curve for us,” Couwenberg said.
“We don’t have the experience to do exercises like this where you work with foreign countries, so this is a very big experience for us.”
The terrain and weather of WSMR’s central range area also provided a unique facet to the training. The unpaved runway gave the transport pilots a challenge representative of a rapid forward deployment.
The summer weather and white sand put the soldiers in a scorching and blinding environment, taking everyone out of their comfort zone.
“This temperature is crazy,” Couwenberg said. “I think in the Netherlands it’s like 50 degrees right now.”
The exercise lasted only a day, with both militaries leaving by convoy the next day, but the chance to get some field time together was invaluable.