Inside the Gates: Alaska's 49th Missile Battalion
When it comes to defending our country during a missile strike, it turns out Alaska's specific role is on the front lines.
"I am incredibly, overwhelmingly proud of the folks at Fort Greely," Commander of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade Col. Kevin Kick said. "Most of us in the continental don't know what folks up there have to deal with day to day. We have 300 folks up there that play a key part in making sure we are ready. Those folks at Fort Greely are really the tip of the spear. They are out there every day where the GBIs (Ground-based interceptors) are in the ground, making sure we are ready. They are incredibly important and I would hope everybody in the state of Alaska is proud of those soldiers."
Activated in 2004, the 100th Missile Defense Brigade is the U.S. military’s only missile defense brigade and the only unit tasked with defending the homeland against Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) attacks. Using a sophisticated fire control system supported by sea, land and space-based sensors, and a missile-launched Exo-Atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), they can track, intercept and destroy the nuclear warhead of an incoming ICBM in its mid-course of flight outside the earth’s atmosphere.
"Our mission in the 100th Brigade is to provide defense of the United States and designated territories," Col. Kick said. "We have units distributed across the U.S., with our primary capability at Fort Greely in Delta Junction, Alaska."
The 100th Brigade uses a combination of sensors, radars and other capabilities across the globe to pull data on any sort of ICBM launch.
"We have crews that watch 24/7 here in Colorado Springs and at Fort Greely, tracking data," Col. Kick said. "Those crews put data together, and if called to do so, would engage against those threats against the homeland using ground-based interceptors that are located at Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California."
The State of Alaska has been preparing for a long time for catastrophic disasters, with plans and exercises and numerous big events that would have wide-scale disruption.
"Whether it's a missile or a major earthquake, many of the consequences remain the same," Jeremy Zidek with Homeland Security and Emergency Management said. "We're going to need to provide healthcare, move people out alive, provide food and water along with HazMat consequences."
The job of Alaska's 49th Missile Battalion is to make sure we never get to that point.
"One of the things that is important to know is that the folks serving at Fort Greely are Alaska National Guardsmen," Col. Kick said. "The National Guard has a long history of defending our homeland and this is a perfect fit for National Guard soldiers to do this mission. Those soldiers up there at the 49th Missile Defense Battalion are key in several ways."
First and foremost, the crews there would process the engagement. Meaning, when the direction of order comes down from the higher authority, it's going to be an Alaska Guardsman in Alaska, typically, that will push the final mouse click.
"There's no big red button to put that GBI in play," Col. Kick said. "It all happens with a click of a mouse. We have Alaskan National Guardsmen securing that facility. It's important to our country that we have those 44 GBIs ready anytime we might need them."
The reason Alaska is at the front line of defense is because in order for a missile from North Korea, or say the Soviet Union, to get to the United States, it has to make a trip through the polar skies.
"People get used to looking at a map and thinking a missile can be launched straight across the map," Col. Kick said. "That's not the case."
A missile is essentially shot into space before it makes its way back down to earth to hit its target. A GBI would be launched to intercept the warhead in space-- as far away from inside the earth's atmosphere as possible. While GBI's success rate is just over 50 percent, the military is continuing to test and perfect the process.
"Here in the United States-- and especially here in Alaska-- we are fortunate to have the missile interceptor bases," Zidek said. "We have the best military in the world; we've been prepared for a long time.
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