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Air Defenders participate in joint training in Korea

Feb 2, 2011

By 1st Lt. Austin Liu, 6-52nd Air Defense Artillery, 35th ADA Brigade Public Affairs

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea - Capt. Cameron Craig, Sgt. Jose Velazquez and Spc. Philip Harrel attentively observed the air picture showing up on their display scopes inside the Patriot Information Coordination Central shelter.

Past midnight, with most of the air base soundly asleep, they remained vigilant.

For Craig and his crew understood that they had a critical mission to accomplish that night - lives were depending on them.

But Craig and his crew were not alone in the fight. Thousands of miles away, across the vast Pacific Ocean, another group of U.S. military personnel were also observing the same air picture on board the Aegis Combat System.

Craig and his crew, assigned to 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, were part of a joint kill chain exercise known as Fleet Synthetic Training-Joint or more simply "FST-J", that took place around the world in January.

The joint exercise linked units of different service branches, from Naval Base San Diego to Osan Air Base, together to conduct real-time air and missile defense operation.

"On the battlefield of 21st Century, distance is no longer an issue." said Craig, who serves as the tactical director on the crew. "Our higher echelon unit can now issue orders and maintain command and control anywhere in the world."

The 26-year old West Point graduate continued, "The purpose of this exercise [FST-J] is to validate our ability to integrate multi-tier air defense operations, from Army Patriot units to Air Force AWACS and Navy Aegis, in a seamless kill chain so that U.S. military can successfully defeat enemy aerial threats anywhere in the world."

"You do not want to wait until hostility starts to find out whether the joint kill chain works or not," said Velazquez, who serves as the tactical director's assistant.

This is not the first time the crew has worked together on a mission of this magnitude.

The seasoned crew demonstrated unspoken confidence and proficiency as they conducted simulated air battle management inside the ICC during the FST-J training.

"ICC is a battalion-level asset with the mission to provide air battle management during period of hostility," said Velazquez, who is a native of Orlando, Fla., explaining the important role his crew played. "We are actively communicating with the higher echelon unit as well as the firing batteries to ensure tracks are positively identified before engagement."

Velazquez and his crew executed a similar mission during the FST-J training.

"We have been together as a crew for eight months now, and I am not afraid to say that we are the best ICC crew on the peninsula," said Velazquez. "We are assigned as the first crew for a reason."

And their record seems to back up the claim, as his crew was indeed one of the few ICC crews on the peninsula that were able to pass the gunnery certification during their first attempt.

"It has not always been easy, but we have learned to communicate and listen to each other," said Harrel, the communication specialist on the crew.

The Compton, Calif. resident chuckled, "After spending hours and hours every day inside a tight space with the same folks, you will know everything about each other ... we know what each other is thinking."

"Even our families have become good friends over the months," Velasquez smiled and said.

Both Velasquez and Craig are serving command-sponsored tours here in Korea.

As the FST-J training came to an end, the crew stepped out of the ICC shelter just as the first gleam of the morning sun began to illuminate the sky.

"I think one of the primary reasons we work so well together is because we hold each other to a higher standard and even more importantly, we trust each other," said Craig. "Most of time you only have split seconds to make a decision inside the ICC ... it all comes down to the training and trust."

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