TANKERS HONE SKILLS AT PLATOON LEVEL
1stLt Jason D. Grose
1st Tank Bn Adjutant
Sixty-eight tons of steel rumble forward to a position to engage its target. Anticipation of the impending explosion is thick in the air while its four-man crew identifies its target and waits for the tank commander to give the order to fire. When the order is given, a wave of pressure coupled with a fiery explosion from the main gun tube appears an instant before the deafening "boom" fills the senses. As the fireball races down-range at an incomprehensible speed, witnesses are awed to see what few people ever get to see: a main round firing from the gun tube of an M1A1 Battle Tank.
Such was the scene recently at the Combat Center's Lake Emerson Training area. "A" Co., 1st Tank Bn., was training on "Tank Table XII," which tests the platoon's individual skill at engaging targets in a simulated combat environment.
Led by Capt. Christopher Guarnieri, "A" Co. Commander, the Marines qualified on this range in order to stay in top combat condition. Guarnieri's right-hand enlisted Marine, known by the coveted title of "Master Gunner," was represented by a rugged tanker named SSgt John Allen. Under the company commander's general guidance, the master gunner creates scenarios and controls the targets the tanks are to engage.
Also helping out Guarnieri was 2ndLt Ethan Harding, who acted as the eyes for the evaluators while the other tank commanders reacted to the scenarios imposed on them by the highly skilled team. Although still somewhat new to the tank community, Harding's skill has proven him to be trusted with missions usually reserved for more senior tankers.
For the new tank commanders, such as 2ndLt Andrew Dirkes who has been at 1st Tank Bn. for less than two weeks, the training was invaluable. The importance of getting to know his crew and working with them under combat conditions was something that could not be "walked through" in garrison.
Despite all of this leadership, it still comes down to the enlisted Marines that comprise 75 percent (and many times 100 percent) of the crews to accomplish the mission. These hardworking men consistently work under the most arduous conditions to keep the Battalion ready at all times to win in battle. They maintain, arm, fire, and maneuver these moving fortresses with amazing skill, often devoting long hours without reward.
As this story ends, Marines board their HMWWVs to head toward the rear. Barely noticing our departure, the company commander and master gunner are busy directing the tanks and setting up for the next target. They will be working early into the morning.
As the Marines head back, they once again hear the voice of the tank bidding them farewell as Guarnieri and his crew continue their work.
1st Tank Bn. once again lived up its reputation as the unit that places "Steel on Target."