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Texas City dike used for military training

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It's more than 8,000 miles from the Texas City Dike to the Strait of Hormuz.

For a U.S. Army Apache battalion, the dike proved the perfect spot to train before heading overseas to protect oil shipments out of the Persian Gulf.

The strait near Iran and the United Arab Emirates connects the Gulf of Oman with the Persian Gulf. It's a key-shipping lane for oil from the Middle East.

With recent threats by Iran to block the strait, the 4th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment out of Fort Bliss is preparing to ship out to Kuwait.

The regiment has been stationed at Ellington Field for three weeks of training along Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico to simulate conditions they could be faced while overseas, Lt. Col. Christopher Barnwell, battalion commander, said.

"It's a different kind of flying over the water," Barnwell said. "It's a very demanding mode of flight over the water. We could do this from land all day, but when you are over water, that presents its own set of challenges."

Among the dangers the AH-64 Apache Longbow crews could face are shoulder-launched missiles.

To work on tactical countermeasures to avoid missile strikes, the 501st set up shop Monday on the end of the Texas City Dike.

As two Apaches flew around the area, Ernest Aguilera and Tony Rankins of the U.S. Department of Defense's Center for Counter Measures out of White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico pointed a modified Man-Portable Air Defense System -- or MPADS -- at the choppers.

There were no missiles in the MPADS, but a video camera helped record and track how a heat-seeking missile would have reacted based on the tactics used by the chopper crew, Aguilera said.

The idea was to find what maneuvers worked to avoid missile lock -- or what countermeasures would confuse the missiles.

Chief Warrant Officer Don Procter, a pilot trainer, put the crews through their paces.

"After this is complete, I will write a (report) that will share the knowledge we gained here today," Procter said. "As the enemy evolves, we evolve."

The training is personal for Procter, a native of Delaware, who started his military career in the Navy but moved to the Army and Apaches after 9/11. He spent two tours in Iraq, including one as a member of the initial invasion force. He also served a tour in Afghanistan.

"I want to ensure that every one of our crews comes home safely," he said.

The training at the dike went a long way in gaining valuable information that will help keep the crews safe, no matter where they are deployed, Barnwell said.

Bruce Clawson, Texas City's homeland security coordinator, worked with the Army as well as the U.S. Coast Guard to set up the training.

Texas City has gained a reputation within the military for offering assistance and sites for training.

Members of the Texas Air National Guard will conduct similar tests at the end of the dike.

Until the training is done, the last half-mile of the dike will be closed to traffic. All of the boat ramps, including the popular Samson-Yarbrough ramp, are unaffected.

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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