German Air Force 1st Lt. Jessica Maass describes doing Patriot air-defense training at Fort Bliss as part of a “good adventure.”
Maass is one of eight German officers going through coursework and training on all aspects of the Patriot system.
“The biggest advantage is we can learn our (Patriot) weapons system out in the field in the desert and we have enough space and enough time to learn it,” Maass said.
The Germans, who have had a presence at Fort Bliss since 1956, quietly continue to operate their Air Defense Center, despite downsizing in recent years.
At one time, they had their North American command center at Fort Bliss, but deactivated that in 2013.
Shortly after that, they quit running their annual Oktoberfest event, which had become legendary in Fort Bliss circles, and handed over responsibility for that to the Fort Bliss Morale, Welfare and Recreation agency.
The Germans will keep the Air Defense Center at Fort Bliss to at least 2022, but eventually they will move it to Germany.
Maass and her classmates started out at Fort Sill (Oklahoma) where they did four months of training. They did a portion of the U.S. Army’s Basic Leadership Course for officers and learned the basics of Patriot.
They then moved on to Fort Bliss where they are doing 4 ½ months of advanced coursework and training. That includes plenty of time out in the vast Fort Bliss training area — setting up and running all aspects of the Patriot.
They are training to become tactical control officers and run a Patriot crew of their own one day.
One of the most important things they are doing is learning all the jobs within a Patriot crew. That way when they take one over, they have an idea of what everyone has to do, Maass said.
First Lt. Deniz Wintermeyer, also a student in the Germans’ officer course, said Fort Bliss has several big advantages that make it a great place to train.
The wide-open training area allows you do virtually all aspects of the Patriot, including turning on its radar system, he said.
“When you radiate, you have to have a big area,” he said. “You have this big desert, no hazards, no people disturbing your training.”
Master Sgt. Juergen Ladich has been stationed at Fort Bliss many times during his career and is currently a trainer at the Air Defense Center.
He said that the large training area provides a world of possibilities.
“Fort Bliss is unbelievable,” he said. “It opens up all the possibilities and you can use (the Patriot) system to its best.”
At the Air Defense Center, anywhere from 350 to 400 German officers and noncommissioned officers come to Fort Bliss each year and train on the Patriot air defense system. The Germans also offer their soldiers a series of advanced courses in integrated missile defense.
The Germans have about 90 soldiers and 20 civilian employees at Fort Bliss, manning the Air Defense Center.
By David Burge/Special for the Herald-Post
David Burge is a producer at ABC-7 in El Paso. He has more than three decades of experience working in newspapers in California, New Mexico and Texas