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Cpl. Ryan J. Sharkey, 24, from Vista, Calif., who is a tank driver with Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, guides a turbine engine into a M1A1 Abrams main battle tank at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Sept. 23. The dust and heat of the Iraqi desert makes it necessary for the Marines with Company A to meticulously check their tanks to guarantee that they are combat ready.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Paul Torres

4th Tank Battalion takes time for tune-up

25 Sep 2008 | by Lance Cpl. Paul Torres 1st Marine Division

The M1A1 Abrams main battle tank makes an intimidating foe for any insurgent planning mischief. As a show of force, these tanks have been vital to the success the Marines have experienced in al-Anbar province. Despite the power these tanks possess, they still require some love from time to time.

“For every hour we spend operating them on a mission, we will spend about two hours on maintenance and repairs,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel S. Lindsay, 34, from San Diego, who is the platoon sergeant with 1st Platoon, Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5.

The Marines with 4th Tank Bn. recently returned here from a seven-week mission along the Syrian border. Many of the tanks, due for their annual repairs, will undergo extensive maintenance to ensure they are operational for future missions.  

“Most of the patrols we go on last anywhere from eight to twelve hours,” said Sgt. Joshua D. Barder, 26, from San Diego, who is maintenance chief with 1st Platoon. “We schedule maintenance days while we are (outside the base), but when we bring (the tanks) back (to base), it allows us to catch up on any maintenance and repairs we couldn’t do while out in the field.”

The maintenance checks and services required for the tanks usually take about a week of solid work. The tanks have their engines removed for a close inspection and for replacements or repairs of any gaskets or filters that need work.

“The sand puts a lot of wear and tear on several parts, and the turbine engine makes the heat a huge factor,” said Barder. “The dust is constantly clogging the filters so we have to pull those off and clean them regularly.”

The Iraqi desert takes a heavy toll on the functionality of the tanks and requires every Marine to pitch in whether they are an operator or mechanic.

“Every Marine is responsible for helping maintain the tanks systems,” said Lindsay. “They tend to be very maintenance hungry machines because of the dust and extreme heat, so to keep up with all the work, every Marine is a wrench (turner).”

The value of a fully operational battle tank is undeniable when it comes to patrolling the open desert.  The tanks are designed to engage other tanks in combat, but when there are no enemy tanks to eliminate, the tanks are still able to support infantry units as they patrol unknown parts of the desert.

“We are not really doing what tanks are designed to do, but it is an ever-changing battlefield, and by just showing up, it is enough to intimidate people into not trying anything,” said Lindsay.

1st Marine Division