WHITE SANDS MISSLE RANGE, N.M. — About 200 Florida Army National Guard soldiers are now standing watch over the skies of Washington, D.C., and its surrounding area, having recently passed a seven-month training and testing process that has led to their support of Operation Noble Eagle.

The Florida Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery Regiment — also known as Task Force Lightning — will work with other Defense Department agencies to shield the National Capital Region from airborne threats for a year-long air defense mission.

The group of air defenders sharpened the skills necessary for their work with the region’s Integrated Air Defense System here and at nearby Oro Grande Base Camp. Trainers from First Army Division West’s 1st Battalion, 362nd Air Defense Artillery, 5th Armored Brigade, also known as the Renegades, were tasked to ensure the Florida unit was mission-ready, and began their training partnership with Task Force Lightning in February.

“The real key to success is the initial assessment where a training plan is put in place that will ensure the units success,” said Renegades Senior Observer Controller/Trainer Master Sgt. Nathaniel Knox. The Renegades conducted an initial assessment of the unit’s capabilities, and a training plan was developed that was designed to guarantee a successful deployment to the region.

After the assessment, the Renegades sent members of their team to Florida to observe Task Force Lightning and provide the unit feedback during weekend battle assemblies. A pre-certification was held in April to check the progress of the unit as they continued their preparation, and a final training opportunity was presented to the guard unit in June with Exercise America’s Shield. This was the last chance for the soldiers to practice their engagement skills with aircraft similar to the ones they would encounter during its final test — the culminating training event — that would certify they were ready for deployment.

The Renegades, with support from the 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command of Anderson, S.C.; the Combat Development Integration Division Facility from Fort Bliss; and the Cruise Missile Defense Systems Project Office of Redstone Arsenal, Ala., set out to certify and validate the unit for its upcoming region Integrated Air Defense System mission to protect vital national assets within the region.

The training event began with the Avenger weapon system gunnery certification and Sentinel radar team qualifications, which Task Force Lightning completed with some of the highest proficiency scores on record for the Renegades.

“The general knowledge, (visual aircraft recognition) and certification testing gives the soldiers a lot of additional confidence as they transition into the live flight engagements, said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Wilson, Renegade master gunner.

The event continued throughout the month of August, primarily using multiple variations of live aircraft for simulated missile engagements. The engagement process let teams demonstrate proficiency in exercising a kill chain up to a command-and-control level. The teams simulated short-range air defense missile engagements with those live aircraft such as Cessna, Lear Jet and Beechcraft airframes.

Every training event for a National Guard short-range air defense artillery unit concludes with a live-fire exercise, where all Avenger weapon system team members have the opportunity to fire live Stinger missiles and engage radio-controlled miniature aerial targets. A total of 58 Stinger missiles were fired during the exercise with 50 successful engagements.

“The (live-fire exercise) is a great way to reward the soldiers who have worked so hard for the past month,” said Sgt. 1st Class Virgil Williams, a Renegades observer controller/trainer. “They are given the opportunity to fire live missiles and put into practice the training they have conducted recently for simulated operation,” he said.

“This gives them a great sense of confidence as they move forward to assume the National Capital Region mission.”

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