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Tankers roll out 68 tons of reassurance to entry control points

8 Aug 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Tankers with Regimental Combat Team 5 know how to send a message.  They simply show up.

Marines from A Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, RCT-5, reinforced an entry control point on the outskirts of Fallujah, an operation they conduct on a regular but erratic schedule. The tankers roll a section of M-1A1 Main Battle Tanks to the ECPs surrounding Fallujah to boost security, provide overwatch and give the Marines on the ground a greater sense of safety.

“We provide them cover and firepower superiority,” said Sgt. Crescencio T. Padilla, a 21-year-old tank commander from San German, Puerto Rico. “We’re guardian angels for them.”

They’re guardian angels who wield a pretty big stick. Along with the 120 mm main gun, each tank carries two 7.62 mm machine guns and a .50-caliber machine gun. Top that off with state-of-the-art targeting systems and sights, and they can hit whatever they can see.  And they can see farther than any of the infantry on the ground.

“I can see the car before it gets to the ECP,” Padilla said. “The gunner is able to identify a threat before anything happens.”

Cpl. Orasee D. Russel, Padilla’s gunner on his tank, said he has all-weather capability and can scan for targets in the worst of conditions. If infantry equipment fails, they have theirs to back up the grunts. 

“We’ve got the night vision and the thermals,” explained Russell, a 22-year-old from Apple Valley, Calif. “If their NVGs stop working, our thermals work. They give us a clearer picture.”

And if a tank does shoot, they’ve got ammunition to spare. Boxes of ammunition are stashed in nearly every open space and the coaxially-mounted machine gun has a belt of rounds so long, it doesn’t appear to have an end.

“We carry more that 10,000 rounds of ‘7.62,’” said Lance Cpl. Brandon C. Pollock, a 19-year-old from Bainbridge, Ga. “We can resupply the infantry with whatever we have to keep them in the fight.”

It’s not just the clearer sight or big guns, though. Tanks send a serious message. 

“We provide presence,” Russell explained. “There’s an intimidation factor. People see a tank and they know all games are over. Insurgents see tanks and they think again.”

That intimidation factor was evident. The ECP tanks arrived at this particular day had been hit by sporadic small-arms attacks and improvised-explosive devices recently. The morning tanks arrived, nothing happened.

“It’s awesome to see those tanks,” said Sgt. Leo A. Robillard, a 25-year-old infantryman from Cheshire, Mass., assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. “They have a huge psychological effect. It’s a show of force. It lets them know we have something up our sleeve.”

Robillard is the sergeant of the guard at an ECP outside the city limits of Fallujah. He said he breathes easier when tanks are on the scene. They not only boost the firepower of his outpost, but give him greater flexibility if he’s attacked.

“They give us an immediate reaction force,” Robillard said. “If we get hit with something farther out, all we can do is run a humvee up there. The tanks give you something to throw back at them.”

Lance Cpl. Devin J. Anderson is Robillard’s corporal of the guard, assisting him in all his duties with security at the ECP. He said having the tanks in scene makes him and his Marines walk a little taller.

“The Marines aren’t as timid when they’re here,” said the 25-year-old Anderson from Southington, Mass. “They are more daring to come out, because we know… no one’s going to mess with us today.”

It’s not just the Marine, though. Anderson said the Iraqi Police and Iraqi soldiers who man the post alongside Marines get a boost from the visible increase in lethality.

“You see them start to work harder” he said. “It’s a big, big reassurance. It’s like having the ultimate overwatch.”

The appreciation of the infantry Marines on the ground isn’t lost on the tankers, either.  During this operation, Marines manning the posts offered to bring out ice water and food to the tankers, dividing up what supplies they had for themselves.

“It’s easy to see they like having us around,” Pollock said.  “There’s usually a lot of flash photography.”