View Full Version : Marine Takes Short Trip in Iraqi Tank

04-14-03, 12:02 PM
By RAVI NESSMAN, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Capt. Daniel Schmitt looked eagerly at the tank and then explained. "I have a hobby. I drive every single thing in the Marine Corps at least once."

But this is a Russian-made T-72 Iraqi tank, not a Marine vehicle.

"It is now," Schmitt said, and grinned like the Cheshire Cat as he climbed into the tank for a short joyride through a palm grove on Monday.

Schmitt, commanding officer of the Weapons Company of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, is admired and respected by his men not only because he began as an enlisted man like most of them but also for his mischievous wackiness.

He asks his Marines to share bawdy stories with him. He calls his rifle Condoleezza, because it is a nice name and it pays homage to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites).

And the 31-year-old from Glen Ellyn, Ill., does exuberant things like climb into an Iraqi tank for a cruise. Even though the T-72 tank, once the pride of the Republican Guard, is more than a decade old and in bad shape.

Schmitt dreamed of driving the tank when he first saw it parked by the side of a road Sunday in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Tunis, which his Marines are patrolling.

The battered, rusty monster appeared to have been abandoned in a hurry an old pair of Iraqi army trousers were attached to it by a cord, as if hung out to dry.

Schmitt was delighted to learn it still worked, and he joked of making it his personal vehicle.

Cpl. Jeff Fowler, 21, of Chesnee, S.C., drove the roaring, clanking tank from the road into the Marine camp beneath the palm trees Monday.

A few minutes later, Schmitt got a quick driving lesson from Fowler, who had learned to operate the Russian-made tank in an Army course.

After a few false starts and more coaching from Fowler, Schmitt began backing the tank among the trees with jerky motions, like a teenager learning to drive a stick-shift car in a parking lot.

The tank continued to lurch as he pulled away from the camp, where his Marines watched with gaping mouths, and headed into another palm grove.

There weren't any U.S. troops other than his own unit in the area, so there was no danger of his being mistaken for a renegade Iraqi.

But Schmitt confined his driving to the grove, out of fear that if he drove the tank farther into the neighborhood he would get shot by Marines.

After about five minutes, he brought the tank back to camp and parked it next to a palm tree.

He popped out and grabbed his rifle.

"Come here, Condoleezza," he said. "I wasn't with another woman. It's a tank. You're still my baby."