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Resurrected Roving Sands exercise reinforces air-defense training at Fort Bliss

Fort Bliss may be the home of the 1st Armored Division, but it still has a major air-defense presence and mission. That was demonstrated during the recently completed Roving Sands exercise.

From March 1st to the 11th, about 2,300 soldiers descended upon the vast Fort Bliss training area in southern New Mexico and extending up into adjacent White Sands Missile Range. Soldiers came from as far away as Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Lewis, Washington.

“There isn’t another place in the United States where you can realistically train in this type of environment,” said Brig. Gen. Clem Coward, commanding general for the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command.

“Our units can get fully stressed in moving their equipment, maintaining their equipment and coordinating with adjacent units,” Coward added.

The 32nd AAMDC is headquartered at Fort Bliss, but oversees troops at five U.S. installations and four foreign countries.

For more than a decade, air-defense units have routinely deployed to the Middle East to support U.S. ground forces and provide air-defense support for key allies and partner nations.

They have gotten used to falling in on established bases of operation, but now Coward and his air-defense command are placing an emphasis on being expeditionary. That means being ready to deploy at a moment’s notice anywhere in the world and being able to establish operations from the ground up in a desolate environment. For that purpose, Fort Bliss and Roving Sands proved to be the perfect place to train.

The 32nd AAMDC used the exercise as a way to validate its far-flung units and show they are ready for any mission that may lie ahead. The exercise also places a premium on practicing basic soldier skills.
“The air-defense branch and particularly Patriot units have been constantly deployed over the past decade in the Middle East,” Coward said, “The hard thing we are getting after in this exercise is shooting, moving and communicating.”

For years, Fort Bliss was the home to the Army’s air-defense operations. But in 2011, the 1st Armored Division moved to the installation from Germany as part of the most recent Base Realignment and Closure process, and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, became the new home to the Army’s air-defense branch.

Still, Fort Bliss maintains a strong air-defense presence with the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command and the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. During Roving Sands, Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment got to practice packing up all its gear and equipment from its home station at Fort Bragg and traveled three-quarters of the way across the country to participate.

“It (training at Fort Bliss) allows us to have wide-open spaces and wide-open skies to practice our craft,” said Spc. Colton Wakley, with Bravo Battery.

First Lt. Nicholas Colbert, the executive officer with Bravo Battery, said the exercise also provided an excellent opportunity to practice their basic soldier skills, such as providing security for their base of operations and doing convoys. “We might find ourselves without escort sometime,” Colbert said. “We might find ourselves moving into enemy territory. We as a Patriot line battery need to protect ourselves and get to our next spot safely.”

The exercise also featured U.S. Marines, Texas National Guard and other Army units from across the country, all in a support role.

The 372nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion is a National Guard unit based in Dallas. It provided water, food, fuel and general support to the soldiers participating in the exercise. Roving Sands also served as excellent training for these support units.

“It allows us to do all our missions, plan those out and get soldiers into vehicles like they would in a hurricane response, a wildfire response or if we were doing a federal mission,” said Lt. Col. Rusty Weedman, commander of the 372nd CSSB.

Roving Sands was held throughout the 1990s. After a 15-year hiatus, it was resurrected last year by the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command as its culminating training event.

David Burge is a producer for KVIA ABC-7. He also has more than three decades of experience writing for newspapers, including about a decade of covering the Army.

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