FORT BLISS, Texas - A cutting-edge air-defense unit is about to head to the Pacific for what is being described as a historic mission.
About 100 Fort Bliss soldiers will deploy to Guam in the West Pacific in response to continuing threats from North Korea, said officials with the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command at Fort Bliss.
These soldiers will operate and support what is being called the latest in Army missile-defense technology - the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system or THAAD.
The Department of Defense announced last week that a THAAD system would be going to Guam in the next few weeks, but details were not released.
This will also be the first time a fully operational THAAD unit will be deployed in an actual operation, instead of just a test, officials said.
Officials with the 32nd AAMDC, which includes the THAAD, declined to say exactly when members of Alpha Battery, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment (THAAD), 11th Air Defense Brigade will be leaving.
But they will stay in Guam as long as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wants them there, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Fallin, THAAD planner with the 32nd AAMDC.
Guam is a territory of the United States, "so we are defending the homeland,' Fallin added.
Last week, Hagel said the North Koreans have threatened the U.S. military base on Guam, U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast.
"This is the first operational deployment, so they are ready,' said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jonathan Lee, a THAAD life-cycle manager who serves as a liaison between the Army and the defense industry on the THAAD. "They've been trained, certified and are ready to execute this mission.
"It's 20-plus years of design, testing and development all coming to fruition with this deployment,' Lee added.
This same unit has twice gone to the Pacific before for tests, Fallin said. In October, they successfully shot down a medium-range ballistic missile during an exercise in the Marshall Islands, which are in the northern Pacific Ocean.
This unit's testing record has been perfect, Fallin said.
"They are the best of the best,' he said.
The successful test in October prompted Brig. Gen. James Dickinson, commander of the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, to hand out 14 medals to soldiers who performed particularly well in the exercise.
Alpha Battery has been training for this mission since the unit was activated in 2007, Fallin said.
The Army has two fully operational THAAD battery units and both are stationed at Fort Bliss. A third unit has been activated here and will begin training later this year.
The THAAD is a land-based missile defense system that includes a truck-mounted launcher, interceptor missiles, tracking radar and an integrated firing control system.
It is designed to eliminate missile threats traveling inside and outside of the atmosphere. It is also designed to be used in a joint environment, meaning with other branches of service.
David Burge may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6126. Follow him on Twitter @dburge1962