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Nearly a year after Russia began invading Ukraine with a brutal assault, members of Ukraine’s military will learn how to use the U.S. Patriot missile defense system at Fort Sill Army Base near Lawton, Oklahoma.
First confirmed by CNN and reported by Politico, the U.S. will train 90-100 Ukrainian on the system over the next few months beginning next week, according to Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder.
Patriot is a surface-to-air guided missile system that can shoot down aircraft, cruise missiles and shorter-range ballistic missiles. On top of sending a total of $24 billion to support Ukraine’s defense against Russia, the Patriot training at Fort Sill will provide a much-needed boost as Russia continues with a merciless attack, blatantly sacrificing many of its own soldiers in the process.
“Once fielded, the Patriot will contribute to Ukraine’s air defense capabilities and provide another capability to the Ukrainian people to defend themselves against Russia’s ongoing attacks,” Ryder said.
Fort Sill becomes central to international effort
In total, Lawton Fort Sill contains roughly 90,000 residents, according to the U.S. census, with Fort Sill being one of the larger military installations in the nation. Despite being located in what some call a fly-over state, Fort Sill is actually critically important to the U.S. military.
Fort Sill is designated as the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence (FCoE) and is home to the Field Artillery School, Air Defense Artillery School, Army Training Center, Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, two Army Fires Brigades, and two Air Defense Artillery Brigades, according to the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce.
It’s also the primary training school for U.S. forces and allies on Patriot.
News of the training comes weeks after U.S. officials finalized plans to send the Patriot system to Ukraine, a crucial piece of military defensive equipment that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been urgently seeking for months.
“There are still battles and tears ahead,” Zelenskyy said in a recorded message played during the Golden Globe Awards on Tuesday. “But now I can tell you who was the best in the previous year – you in the free world, who united around support of free Ukrainian people.”
While the Patriot system won’t actually arrive in Ukraine until after their soldiers are trained on its usage, the trainings illustrate Lawton Fort Sill’s importance on the world stage.
The city of Lawton contains the highest percentage of Black residents of any large city in Oklahoma, not counting all-Black towns. Roughly 19% of the population is Black, according to the U.S. Census. Yet the high poverty rate, lack of access to high-paying jobs and prolific drug abuse stands in stark contrast to the prestige of Fort Sill.
As Lawton Fort Sill becomes a central player in the U.S. effort to support Ukraine’s existence in the face of Russia’s bloody invasion, it remains to be seen whether the families of Lawton will see a boost in their quality of life.