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Dedicated air defense soldiers keep watch on Korean Peninsula

Army Staff Sgt. Raul Duenas (left) and Army Spc. Ryan Buchanan, at Osan Air Base, South Korea, August 2017. (Army photo by Staff Sgt. Monik Phan)
September 15, 2017

More than four stories below the entrance of 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade headquarters at the Osan Air Base in South Korea, teams of soldiers provide around-the-clock, real-time surveillance of the tactical ballistic missile threat on the Korean Peninsula.

Despite their moniker that conjures thoughts of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, these soldiers fully understand their real-world mission, and the vital role they play. The Dungeon Dragons of the Dragon Brigade are essential in monitoring, receiving and disseminating information to ensure U.S. ballistic missile defense is ready to fight tonight.

The Fire Direction Center, in concert with the soldiers that work in the Air Defense Artillery Fire Control Officer office, are not like other staff sections. There is a bond among the group that resembles a football team playing deep into the playoffs — they are a close bunch. Their closeness is forged in long hours, lost weekends and a clear understanding of the impact they have on the millions of people that call South Korea home.

Fight Tonight

From the most southern point in South Korea to the 38th parallel, the 8th Army mantra of fight tonight reverberates throughout every unit.

“The primary mission of the FDC and the ADAFCO is to provide situational awareness to our brigade commander on the Korean Peninsula,” said Army Staff Sgt. Raul Duenas, an air defense battle management system operator with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 35th ADA Brigade.

As an air defense battle management system operator, Duenas works in the FDC and monitors multiple systems that provide a common operating picture of tactical ballistic missiles and air breathing threats. The images are depicted with detailed information to enable his team to submit time-sensitive reports situational awareness if a missile is launched.

“If something were to happen, we would be the first people to know about it,” Duenas said. “We will be the first ones to see it. We will have to quickly react to make the necessary phone calls and disseminate information about the event.”

The FDC and ADAFCO personnel work around the clock to ensure every potential threat is observed. Their systems are always collecting and saving data so they can quickly analyze the information to prepare and consolidate situational reports for the brigade command team.

“Our job is to monitor the [radar] screens to see the first signs of any threat,” said Army Spc. Ryan Buchanan, an Air Defense Enhanced Early Warning Operator from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 35th ADA Brigade. Buchanan is among the soldiers who are under Duenas’ supervision.

The brigade’s monitoring systems are capable of identifying the type of missile launched  through the use of advanced radar technology, said Army Spc. Christopher Lee, an air defense battle management system operator from HHB, 35th ADA Brigade.

Due to the North Korean threat, the brigade is always conducting training to keep their units prepared, said Army Pfc. Dorold Nguyen, a Patriot Fire Control Enhanced Operator/Maintainer with HHB, 35th ADA Brigade. The units are always training to ensure everything is fully missioned capable and batteries are at the directed posture of readiness.

One of the most essential components within the ADA community is the data-link architecture that allows units to communicate with each other while they are geographically dispersed, Nguyen said. Although there are measures in place for units to fight autonomously if needed, the brigade is most effective when communication links are networked.

“We are always testing our communication links between batteries and battalions to make sure they stay running,” Nguyen said. “When everyone passes the information among each other, it helps us fight together.”


The brigade recently completed an internal exercise with their South Korean counterparts here to prepare for the annual peninsula-wide exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian. The purpose of the training was to ensure the brigade’s operation centers, along with the crews that fight the air battles during UFG, are familiar with their systems and processes.

One of the biggest benefits of the combined exercise was the ability to conduct training and implement battle drills through digitized simulations, said Army Staff Sgt. Jordan R. Hobbs, an air defense battle management system operator with HHB, 35th ADA Brigade.

The brigade’s combined exercise reinforced the leadership’s emphasis of enhancing interoperability. And, the more that units work together in a training capacity, the better prepared they will be for real-world events.

Christopher Tarpley, event lead from Missile Defense Agency based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, explains the ADA exercises in South Korea are simulated scenarios that provide a baseline of understanding of how the South Korean military and its allied forces could defend themselves during an attack, such as a tactical ballistic missile threat from North Korea.

During the exercises, ADA soldiers with the 35th ADA Brigade coordinate with the South Korean air force and army to deconflict airspace amongst each other. They are able to utilize each other’s systems to identify different types of aircrafts and other objects that are visible in the airspace they monitor.

The 35th ADA Brigade continues to implement combined and joint training whenever possible to enhance readiness and leverage capabilities, officials said. At each echelon throughout the brigade, combined and joint operations are planned to improve interoperability. The next large-scale peninsula-wide training exercise is Key Resolve that will occur in the winter of 2018.