Aircraft that wander, or deliberately fly, into airspace anywhere near the nation's capital will encounter a sophisticated and deadly array of defense systems.
And, at the last line of defense will be 100 soldiers from the Mississippi Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 204th Air Defense Artillery. They finished their training Friday with a live-fire exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas.
For the soldiers, primarily 18- and 19-year-old men and women from throughout Mississippi, shooting the stinger missiles was a confidence builder after more than a year of training.
"Its extremely important," said Maj. Tim Harrelson, the battalion operations officer, in a news release. "We're defending the nation's capital. We're going to do whatever order is given to us as far as taking down an aircraft. That's a big feat to ask an 18-, 19-year-old soldier to do.
"It's going to be uncomfortable enough for that soldier," said Harrelson. "We don't want him to hesitate if he's given that order. We want him to feel natural."
Earlier this year, the unit received the Alexander Hamilton Award, which recognizes the best air defense artillery battery in the Army National Guard.
The Air Defense Identification Zone stretches 30 miles from the center of Washington D.C. Operation Noble Eagle, which patrols the airspace with fighter jets and helicopters, often chase stray aircraft out of the area.
Farther out, at about 75 miles, aircraft are tracked, and possibly attacked, by systems that include lasers, electro-optical sensors, radar and cameras.
Then comes the Army's Avenger System, the stinger missiles the Guardsmen can fire, which have a range of about 5 miles (and 10,000 feet into the air).