Whatever the dangers posed by the "Soviet threat," the good citizens of Maryland are in no immediate jeopardy unless they happen to be on the wrong end of Alan Holt's missile.
While an expected VIP crowd of 150 business leaders, military brass and other guests looks on, members of the Maryland National Guard will demonstrate their marksmanship with live ammunition today at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. Capping the show will be Alan Holt of Frederick, Md., a team leader in Company A, 115th Infantry, who will fire a wire-guided $6,000 anti-tank TOW missile--for the first time.
Guard commanders don't expect anything to go awry; specialist Holt has been thoroughly schooled in the subtleties of the TOW. But as there are only three such missiles in the Maryland Guard's arsenal, Holt has never had occasion to actually fire one.
"It will be baptism by fire," said Maj. Josiah Fuller.
The live-fire demonstration is part of Operation Thunderbolt, a joint exercise -- the largest in four years -- being staged by detachments from the Maryland Air and Army National Guard to "highlight the Soviet threat" and show how the state's "citizen soldiers" are preparing to meet it.
About 250 participating guardsmen will fly Cobra attack helicopters and A10 Thunderbolts, fire mortars, howitzers and the antitank Dragon missile, and, to underscore the military prowess of the Soviet Union, present a "skit/threat briefing" featuring Russian-speaking guardsmen dressed in Soviet uniforms and demonstrating Soviet weapons.
"We're basing this whole operation on the Soviet threat," said Fuller. "It will give an insight into what the Soviets are all about."
Training exercises such as Operation Thunderbolt occur at the rate of almost one a day in all branches of the military, and Robert S. Norris, an analyst with the Center for Defense Information, says that the Soviet threat is "the chief rationale."
If they do not have major roles in the military power play waged by the United States and Soviet Union, the guardsmen from Maryland are nonetheless part of an important supporting cast, reserve forces trained and ready to be pressed into service quickly in event of conflict.