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Fighting Our Nation's Wars: One 50lb Round At A Time
by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick - 2016

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"Mere Chance" by David G. Bancroft

Cemetery Woods by David G. Bancroft

While the nation sleeps, a gritty group of troops train on heavy equipment designed to secure and maintain freedom for millions of Americans.

Not far from the main cantonment area of Fort Hood, M1A2 SEP V3 Abrams tanks are rolling out to put rounds downrange, and while that fact may not mean much to the average American, the result of this training can be widely appreciated.

“One Abrams tank has more firepower than an entire squad of infantrymen,” said Capt. Jason Tucker, commander of Company B, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

une 30, 2016 - Three M1A2 Abrams tank crews from Company B, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, engage targets at Crittenberger Multipurpose Range Complex during a series of gunnery tables. As a part of an integrated approach to warfare, Abrams tanks, along with well-armed, well-trained tank crews are a valuable asset to the United States Army as a fighting force. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick)
June 30, 2016 - Three M1A2 Abrams tank crews from Company B, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, engage targets at Crittenberger Multipurpose Range Complex during a series of gunnery tables. As a part of an integrated approach to warfare, Abrams tanks, along with well-armed, well-trained tank crews are a valuable asset to the United States Army as a fighting force. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick)

As a part of an integrated approach to warfare, Abrams tanks, along with well-armed, well-trained tank crews are a valuable asset to the United States Army as a fighting force.

Just as Soldiers qualify and maintain proficiency on their individual weapons, tanks crews must also maintain proficiency in a training event known as gunnery. During one gunnery iteration, a company of tanks can expend anywhere from 400 to 500 120mm rounds.

Considering that just one 120mm rounds weighs roughly 50 pounds, an entire company of 14 tanks is a force to be reckoned with.

“You sharpen your axe here,” Tucker said. “You don't have time to sharpen your axe out there (in combat).”

The troops practice firing on silhouettes meant to represent personnel at between 200 and 800 meters away and at tanks and other vehicles at 3,000 meters and while moving.

“You gain a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge,” said Sgt. Gerald Smith, a gunner and assistant tank commander assigned to Co. B. “After all the training I've had, I can basically run my tank by myself.”

Proficiency and readiness require tough training, and these Soldiers often spend weeks in the austere field environment to build team cohesion and solidify those critical skills that will make all the difference in a combat environment.

The tanks are run by 4-man crews, and everyone in the crew learns everyone else's job.

“It's not four people; it's a crew,” Smith said. “The crews want to stay together. It's a family.”

Since the company regularly receives brand new Soldiers freshly graduated from One Station Unit Training, gunnery also serves the purpose of bringing those young tankers up to speed.

“I have 11 Soldiers here that graduated (One Station Unit Training) three weeks ago, and they are here firing gunnery,” Tucker said.

Upon arriving to the unit, those new troops are assigned to a crew, and the work of training begins.

“We have to get them up to par with our standard and get them used to working as a crew, not as one person,” said Spc. Matthew Jardine, a gunner with Co. B. “It's kind of like trial by fire. They throw you in there, and you have to learn fast. It's not all in the book. You can learn the basics of how to put a round in the tube, but until you actually do it, you don't have it.”

It takes trained, confident troops to manage and maneuver more than 65 tons of composite armor decked out with an M240 machine gun, a .50 caliber machine gun and an M256A1 smoothbore gun.

“These vehicles are amazing,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Ricketts, first sergeant of Co. B. “It just blows your mind when you get in them and realize what they can do.”

Moving at a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour, one tank has a maximum fuel capacity of about 500 gallons. To put that into perspective, a standard bathtub holds about 70 gallons of water, according to the Environment Protection Agency. So it would take about 1,000 bathtubs full of JP8 to fuel all 14 tanks in the company.

It takes an hour and half to fuel the whole company, Smith said.

But once they are fueled, manned with trained and ready troopers, and armed with 42 rounds. That full load of ammunition could consist of any combination of various types of rounds, ranging from high-explosive anti-tank rounds to canister rounds, which each contain more than 1,100 3/8 inch tungsten ball bearings, so it's essentially a massive shotgun shell.

With ammo loaded and adrenaline pumping, the crews wait their turn to qualify on each of 12 gunnery tables, all testing various levels of skill and proficiency from team level all the way up to platoon level engagements. While scoring 700 is passing and the maximum score is 1,000, the teams harness their competitive natures and attempt to one up each other.

“There's a lot of smack talk of who's going to get best platoon and best crew,” Smith said. “We want to be proficient,” Jardine said. “We want to be good at our job.”

When all the tank crews have qualified and all the after-action reviews have been completed, the time in the field comes to a close.

“At the end of the day, we are very confident in our ability to put steel on target,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Brazel, a tank commander assigned to Co. B. “That's what we do.”

By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2016

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