IN EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA -- When members of C Company, 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment fired a Patriot missile against an Iraqi Scud headed for Riyadh, it was the first time that most had ever heard their own weapon in action. Some mistook it for the Scud striking them.
"It sounded like something was impacting on our site," said Army Capt. Kevin Groome of Baltimore, the unit's commander. "It was pretty interesting," he said of the night of Jan. 21 when the first Scuds, which many had thought could not reach their position, bore in on them.
Captain Groome commanded the unit that was awarded the Army's Commendation Medal Saturday for their performance that night.
Company members had all trained with the Patriot, but many either had not witnessed a firing or had not witnessed one at such close range. Costing from $500,000 to $1 million each, the missiles are not fired often in training.
When Lt. Lorenzo Adams of Petersburg, Va., ordered the firing of the Patriot, its blast rocked their trailer violently and produced what Captain Groome described as a blinding white flash that convinced many the Scud had struck their dug-in site.
Since then, the "Scud-busters" have been refining their computer commands so that the rockets do more than simply blow the warheads off incoming missiles. Now, they are trying to obliterate the entire 37-foot Scuds, according to battalion commander Lt. Col. Thomas Smith, 41, of St. Albans, Vt.