Inside the Gates: The 300 defending the 300 million
Following the attacks of 911, the White House under President George W. Bush issued a national security directive, calling for a new approach to protecting the United States from attack.
In June of 2002, ground was broken at the missile defense complex at Fort Greely, Alaska. In early 2003, a small group of soldiers began training on the system in Colorado Springs. The 100th Missile Brigade was activated.
"The 100th Missile Brigade is small," Commander of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade Col. Kevin Kick said. "It consists of about only 300 members, but our mission is essential to the American people and we are proud to be the 300 defending the 300 million."
In July of 2004, the first Ground-Based Interceptor was lowered into its silo at Fort Greely. The United States currently has 44 GBIs-- 40 of which are in Alaska.
"Right now, we have ground-based interceptors in two locations," Col Kick said. "Here at Fort Greely, Alaska, and at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California."
Many people wonder, why Alaska? What makes the Last Frontier so important when it comes to defending the homeland against a missile attack?
"Alaska is unique in terms of its geography from the adversaries we project we may be threatened against," Col. Kick said. "What we expect is the shortest distance if they were to attack the homeland would be sort of a shot across the polar region to get gain the biggest advantage of distance. Putting those ground-based interceptors in Alaska gives us great flexibility to provide the ability to engage against a threat to the U.S. from really any location against a diverse sort of cities or locations they might target."
When thinking about a missile attack from another country, it's important to remember the earth is round and not flat. In order for another country to launch a missile on U.S. soil, the missile would be launched into the Earth's atmosphere and into space before starting it's decent back to the Earth. Think of the launch like pitching a softball. There is an arch to it. The larger the arch, the further the missile is projected to go. Alaska is the furthest state west and the first line of defense for an incoming missile.
"When we say we have cutting edge technology, we actually get to say it and mean it-- which is really exciting," Captain Jennifer Staton said. "Our crews with the 100th Missile Defense Brigade and the 49th Missile Battalion have been part of the research, the development, testing and evaluation process since this program began."
One constant at Fort Greely is the upgrade in technology. Every GBI is fitted with the latest and greatest technology when it comes out.
"Using the sophisticated fire control systems," Col. Kick said, "supported by sea, land and space-based sensors, the soldiers of the brigade can track, intercept and destroy the warhead of an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile in its midcourse phase of flight outside the earth's atmosphere."
If a threat is detected, more than likely, a GBI would be launched from Fort Greely. The success rate of hitting the target is just over 50 percent per GBI. The GBI, once launched, will reach speeds of Mach 33-- or over 24,000 miles per hour. The actual kill vehicle atop the interceptor is only about five feet tall. It contains no firepower and simply relies on kinetic force. There are no warheads or explosives on board. A comparison is a bullet hitting a bullet, with this being a collision in space.
"It’s amazing the technology, the sensors, radars, that show the pictures and the crew's ability to read that picture and to make determinations, it's absolutely phenomenal," Captain Staton said. "Every GBI we have on base is operational."
Fort Greely is planning on adding 20 more GBIs by the year 2023. With tensions rising between North Korea and Russia, how concerned should Americans be and how safe should we feel?
"I have great confidence with the plans, drills and exercises that have been laid out should that moment come," Col. Kick said. "I would tell you that Fort Greely is very safe, that we walk through and inform the family members and additional residents here on what they need to do. We have great relationships with the first responder community and the folks in the consequence management realm, to walk through any potential issues that may come."
The unsung heroes of Fort Greely are the Military Police. They constantly patrol the base to ensure the rest of the soldiers can do their mission.
"We’re the human element out here that keeps everything going," Specialist Elliott Bash, of Anchorage, said. "So, no matter what, 24/7, 365 we’re always operating, always working."
What's particularly unique about soldiers across the 100th Brigade is that they are comprised of more than 80 percent of Army National Guardsmen.
"The crews are deployed and in place," Col. Kick said. "They know no days off, the office does not shut down due to inclement weather, for weekends, holidays or family emergencies. Each shift, the crew members stand ready to guard, engage and destroy any threat to the homeland. This has always been and continues to be a no-fail mission."
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