- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

FORT SILL, Okla. (AP) - Brig. Gen. Randy McIntire, commandant of the Air Defense Artillery (ADA) School and chief of the ADA branch, makes a powerful case for his branch, both to young soldiers thinking of it as a career and in terms of equipping it for the future.

The chief of the Army’s Air Defense Artillery branch took an unusual path to get where he is.

He started his military career in the Illinois ArmyNational Guard, according to The Lawton Constitution (https://bit.ly/1LD0zus ). His father, who flew search and rescue missions while he was in the Air Force, had joined the Guard, and he escorted Brig. Gen. Randy McIntire and five of his closest friends to the recruiter’s office when the general was a junior in high school. They all enlisted under the buddy program in 1983.

Being a Guard member entitled him to go to any state-funded school for free, but a year’s service is required to claim that privilege. That’s why his father was so adamant that they all sign up as juniors.

It worked out extremely well for McIntire. He went to boot camp the summer between his junior and senior years and came back fit enough to excel in athletics during his senior year. As a result he earned some scholarships and wound up playing basketball his first two years of college. He came to realize that basketball wasn’t going to pay the bills, so he invoked his Guard scholarship and switched to ROTC his last two years of college. He was commissioned upon his graduation from Western Illinois University in 1988.

His Guard outfit was converting from a quartermaster unit to ADA, and McIntire said he wanted to be an air defender.

“I was supposed to be one of the first lieutenants of the organization once I had gotten my commission to be air defense. So I went to Fort Bliss, (Texas,) as a National Guard officer, and back then they had this thing called the Commandant’s Program. The commandant could put one National Guard officer on active duty, kind of as a direct commissioning source.

“So my small group instructor came up to me and said, ‘Hey, Randy! Have you ever thought about coming on active duty?’ And I really liked what I had been doing the last three months, the camaraderie and I had a decent paycheck,” McIntire said. He was hesitant at first because he had grown up with the Guard and knew the people, “but for some reason I said yes.”

Now McIntire is the commandant, and he would like to reinstate that program if the budget permits. He says his first five years in the Guard really grounded him with an appreciation for being a soldier and an understanding of the non-commissioned officer corps.

He signed up for three years, and since the commandant had picked him, he could choose where he wanted to go. He picked Fort Campbell, Kentucky, because it was the closest air defense unit to his home state. He didn’t realize he would be assigned to the 101st Airborne Division.

“Once I did my homework, I was a little bit terrified, quite frankly,” he confessed.

He tried to switch to Fort Riley, Kansas, but it was too late - his future boss had been notified he was coming. Worse still, his battalion commander was on post and wanted to meet him.

“So, long story short, he did find me, and I still had my National Guard patch on . I had a mustache. And of course no wings or anything on my chest, and he looked like a field marshal with everything on. And he said, ‘Well, before you show up at Fort Campbell, make sure you’ve been to Ranger School (and) Airborne School. Don’t worry about Air Assault School. We’ll take care of that at Fort Campbell for you. And for heaven’s sake, get rid of that mustache because that gets in the way of parachute cords.’

“So at that point, a brand new second lieutenant, I’m just pretty much terrified, and ‘what have I just signed up for?’ But it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” McIntire said.

He didn’t get into Ranger School because slots were too hard to come by, but he did everything else his battalion commander told him. He’s proud to have deployed with the 101st to Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm and has gone on to a very rewarding career in the active Army.

“They’re still waiting for me to come back to the Guard unit, and I’m still here,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

He tells young cadets who are considering the ADA branch it’s a very exciting time period because the demand for air defense artillery is really, really high.

“We’re from mud to space in terms of where you can find yourself working. And highly technical, progressive. But we find ourselves being a big part of the deterrence package. So when you understand at the strategic level what we actually bring to the fight, I’m always in awe and impressed with the responsibility we put on our young leaders at a very early stage of their careers. It’s not uncommon for a battery commander or a lieutenant to be out on point for the nation in a foreign country, who’s dealing with dignitaries (and) senior military officials,” McIntire said.

“I like to say that air defense, particularly our Patriot and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense) forces today, are normally a price of entry into a country, if we’re trying to do something for our national interest,” he noted. “What we bring is almost the perfect tool, because we’re defensive in nature. So for the host nation and the leaders of that country, they’re able to tell their constituents that (they) have U.S. commitment, the forces that are here are here to protect us, and it kind of sells well.”

Recruiters do warn prospects that air defenders deploy frequently and it may be hard on their family lives. ADA has the second highest deployment rate of any branch in the Army.

It remains a popular choice among young West Point cadets nonetheless. McIntire recently attended Branch Night there, and ADA got 46 cadets, which put the branch in the top five of the 17 branches represented. For 43 of them it was their No. 1 choice. For the other three, it was in their top three.

“When I talk to them, they want to see the world. They want to make a difference. And they like the fact that we’re technological. And that we’re combat arms, too,” he said.

Recent figures show that ADA soldiers account for 8,445, or 1.87 percent, of the active Army’s 451,482 total personnel. McIntire thinks the branch will grow over time due to the high demand for its services.

“I don’t think we’re going to grow as fast as the demand would dictate, but we are one of the three areas that the senior leaders of the military said we’ve got to take a look at,” McIntire said, noting that air defense comes third after special forces and cyber forces. “And we have grown in this pretty tight environment, in small, small increments.”

The challenge the ADA branch faces is that, although it’s one of the smallest branches, the cost of equipping its units is so high that it ranks No. 4 in that regard. Each new THAAD battery, for example, represents an investment of about $1 billion. Even so, the Army has five THAAD batteries, is activating a sixth, and there is funding for a seventh, with enough people for an eighth.

Counting its Guard units, ADA has a presence in 12 states and one territory, Guam. The Guard has seven ADA battalions in South Carolina, North Dakota, Florida, Ohio and Mississippi. In addition to performing Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, ADA Guard members protect the capital region 24/7, 365 days a year.

“And now we’re asking them to get involved with our rotations into Europe, doing exercises over there as we kind of strengthen our position in Europe. In the process of that, we’re asking them to go to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, to do training with the maneuver forces that are going through it,” he said.

In the Middle East alone, ADA forces are in seven countries right now, protecting the U.S. and its allies from tactical ballistic missiles, hostile aircraft, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial systems (UAVs).

In addition to being chief of the branch, McIntire wears a second hat as commandant of the ADA School. As part of the Fires Center of Excellence and “the home of the Fires,” the ADA School here can expect to see career military personnel in its courses at least three times over a 20-year span. The school offers permanent positions as well. Not only does it mold young soldiers but it also sharpens their skills so they will be successful in their field.

Transformation summits are underway on how students will be trained in a different way for new weapon systems that will replace those currently in use. For example, the Multi-Mission Launcher (Indirect Fire Protection Capability) will take the place of Stinger/Avenger in order to deal with cruise missile and UAV threats.

Excitement is running high over two things next year: the arrival of a new ADA battalion, 5th of the 5th, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and the new ADA Training Support Facility next to the Field Artillery Museum. McIntire said he thinks the groundbreaking will be on May 17.

2018 will be a big year for the branch. The 50th anniversary of the ADA branch will be on June 20, 2018, and Nov. 11, 2018, will be the Armistice Day centennial, which ties in with the very beginnings of air defense.

___

Information from: The Lawton Constitution, https://www.swoknews.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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