EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA, JAN. 21 -- For Army 1st Lt. Quinton McCorvey, who once played strong safety for Alabama A&M, it was the biggest interception of his life.
"Actually," he said, "I knocked it down."
Actually, it was two "its." Late Sunday night, McCorvey, 28, of Pensacola, Fla., and his Patriot battery mates Sgt. Jeffrey Lynn, 28, of Smithfield, N.C., and Pfc. Ted Phillips, 28, of Wichita, Kan., shot down two Iraqi Scud missiles over a large air base in eastern Saudi Arabia.
"I'm a former athlete, so I've definitely been on some highs, but last night took me quite high," McCorvey said. "This is a culmination of all the hard work."
In all, the Second Battalion of the Seventh Air Defense Artillery, the Patriot antimissile missiles that guard the air base, intercepted and destroyed five incoming Scuds in two attacks Sunday night and this morning. A seventh Scud was what battalion commander Lt. Col. Leroy Neel called a "fly-by," falling harmlessly into the Persian Gulf.
Besides McCorvey's Bravo battery team, Alfa Battery got credit for three kills. It was Alfa battery which got the Patriots' first kill in history, knocking down a Scud on Friday, the second day of Operation Desert Storm.
"They're leading 4-2," said Bravo battery commander Capt. Joe DeAntona, 26, of Scranton, Pa.. "We shared them last night. There's some good-natured rivalry but basically we're good friends."
The air-base Patriots have a perfect record against Scuds, but the system is not flawless. In an attack early today, one of four Scuds shot down at the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh apparently exploded near an airport, causing some craters and damage, press reports said.
"Certainly our heartfelt wishes went out to them, but we have confidence in the systems down there," said McCorvey, who like most Patriot battery members tempers exultation with the knowledge that more Scuds may be fired at any time.
Bravo battery picked up a single Scud missile on its radar around 9:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. EST) Sunday, according to an account by the soldiers. Seconds later, it detected two more. Tracking began immediately, the lights went out, alarms were sounded, fire control radars locked on and the Patriot computers began selecting targets; two for Bravo, one for Alfa.
The battery's soldiers -- more than 100 in all -- donned full protective clothing, including gas masks, to guard against a chemical warfare attack, and scrambled to underground bunkers. In the battery's nerve center, McCorvey, Lynn and Phillips monitored computer screens, checked equipment and waited for the shot. To an outsider, DeAntona said, "It looks like organized chaos, but it's very organized."
At 9:45 p.m., the Bravo battery Patriot launchers nicknamed "Iron Maiden" and "Scud Buster" fired two missiles. Alfa battery fired at the third Scud. All three scored hits. Two took a bit longer to reach their targets so two other insurance shots were fired, a calculation the computer makes "in a split second," Neel said.
"Until the adrenalin hit, I felt pretty calm and collected," Phillips said. When the Scud went down, he added, he felt "pretty shaky."
There were high fives, exhilaration, "the whole nine yards," DeAntona said, but only for a moment. After that, he added, "It was, 'let's get ready for the next one.'"
They waited almost three hours before their radars picked up another trio of incoming Scuds, all of which carried conventional warheads. The battalion gave Alfa battery the targets, because Bravo had fired more missiles. At 12:48 a.m. today, Bravo battery killed two Scuds. The computer disdained the third: "They can shoot all the Scuds they want into the water," DeAntona said.
Description: Tactical air defense system
Range: 50 miles
Length: 17 ft., 5 in.
Weight: over 2,000 lbs.
Warhead: Conventional high explosive
Speed: Higher than Mach 3
1. Technicians in a mobile "Engagement Control Station" monitor the area for incoming threats.
2. When an incoming missile or aircraft is spotted, the Patriot is launched from a mobile launcher.
3. A ground radar system and the airborne Patriot receive reflected radar signals from the enemy vehicle. The Patriot sends its data to the ground station for computer correlation.
4. After making this comparison, the ground station repeatedly transmits an adjusted flight path to the Patriot.t
5. If successful, the Patriot will intercept the enemy missile or aircraft and destroy it in the air.
SOURCES: Jane's Missile Systems; Modern Land Combat; Advanced Technology Warfare