The sound of 70-ton tracked machines interrupted the calm hush of the desert as tank after tank rolled over the rugged terrain. They held their formation as they advanced toward the mock enemy position, firing their 120 mm main gun along the way.
It was all in a day’s work for Marines with Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion, who blasted their way through the desert in their M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks during Exercise Desert Scimitar 2014.
The training gave Marines the opportunity to refine and rehearse essential combat skills needed in a battlefield environment. Desert Scimitar is an annual exercise that includes elements from I Marine Expeditionary Force. The Exercise focused on conventional operations and provided realistic training that prepared Marines for overseas operations.
A tank’s success on the battlefield is defined by the teamwork of its four crewmen, who each play a vital role. A tanker usually begins his career in the driver’s position or in the loader’s position. The driver pilots the tank through all types of terrain and he helps the loader and gunner with maintenance before and after a mission.
“There’s nothing like being a tanker,” said Lance Cpl. John Aragon, a tank crewman with the company. “I get to drive a 70-ton monster through the desert and hear a cannon go off right over my head. There is no other experience like that.”
While the driver ensures the 70-ton monster arrives on the battlefield, the loader brings the boom to the front. The team relies on the loader to ensure the main gun is ready to fire. He has only seconds to ready a 120 mm round into the main gun.
The physically challenging aspect of being a tanker is a big obstacle for the Marines to overcome, said 1st Lt. Mason Englehart, a platoon commander with the company.
“Fatigue is difficult for the Marines to get through,” said Mason Englehart, from Murfreesboro, Tenn. “They already haven’t had many hours of sleep during this training and they will only get a couple hours each night for the next three days.”
Being a tanker is difficult in any position on the team, but the Marines who excel in their jobs gain greater responsibility as gunners and commanders.
For a tanker to work his way to the gunner’s position, he must be tactically proficient in the driver and loader position. The gunner is the second in command and is responsible for targeting any threats that cross the main gun’s path.
The tank commander assumes leadership and responsibility for the vehicle and crew. He also gives the command to fire the main gun round and ensures everyone understands the mission.
The armored tank demands respect from any challenger and it is up to the tank crew to keep their vehicle running smoothly, said Aragon, a 23-year-old from Carlsbad, N.M. The monstrous vehicle requires up to 10 hours of maintenance for every hour it is operating.
Going through the difficult training built camaraderie between the troops, said Englehart. It strengthened their bond and built a sense of brotherhood. The Marines with 1st Tanks showed their explosive prowess as they blasted through Desert Scimitar, successfully raising the bar higher as they concluded the exercise.
The Marines with Alpha Co. continue to hone their craft to make their vehicles operational, keep accurate and timely fire on targets, and most importantly, protect the Marines on the battlefield who need their direct fire support. When the company of 70-ton monsters comes together, they’ll prove they are a deadly force.