Back in the Saddle: 1st Tank Marines get back on their machines after more than a year

8/26/2008 By Lance Cpl. Corey A. Blodgett , Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. —After Marines from Company C, 1st Tank Battalion returned from Iraq in May 2008, where they performed patrols and security missions instead of their primary role as armored support, they did what they were supposed to do; they got back on their tanks.

The Marines completed the 10-day portion of the battalion’s gunnery qualification, a three-month, bi-annual qualification for the M1A1 Main Battle Tank, at Range 500 Tuesday, after more than a year away from their machines.

“They had a provisional mission in Iraq providing main supply route security, where they weren’t even on tanks,” said Lt. Col. Tom Gordon, 1st Tanks’ commanding officer. “So, besides completing our semi-annual qualifications, this has been essential refresher training in getting them back on their tanks and back up to their high level of proficiency.”

Each company in the battalion spent 10 days in the field performing several different day and night live-fire tasks from the tanks, on which they were graded by an observer, having to pass seven out of 10 of the scenarios to qualify.

“They are tested and graded on every possible scenario,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jason Villasana, 1st Tanks’ battalion master gunner and grading observer during the training.

“We scored them on everything from firing the 240G (M-240G Medium Machine Gun) at enemy troops, shooting the .50 caliber (M2 .50 caliber Machine Gun) at enemy truck targets, to firing their main gun at either armored targets or using explosive anti-tank rounds against light armored targets,” explained Villasana about the long days for Company C.

The Marines also had to perform those same scenarios under different situations, such as operating in a nuclear, biological, and chemical environment and working with their tank in a “degraded” mode, said Villasana, a Sabinal, Texas, native.

“That’s when we take certain capabilities away from the Marines, simulating a malfunction in the tank,” he explained. “Meaning we won’t let them use their laser targeting system or the primary sites for example.”

Gordon said degrading capabilities by imputing malfunctions into the tank is an important aspect of the training because along with fighting the enemy, the Marines “have to be able to fight their tank,” or overcome mechanical obstacles they may face.

“The tank is equipped with the most technically advanced fire control system in the world, but that doesn’t mean anything if it malfunctions in combat,” said Gordon, a native of Boston. “It also has a gunner’s auxiliary sight, which is just like what the tanks of World War II and Korea used, and the Marines have to learn to fight using that sight as well. It allows them to have confidence in their weapon systems, so they know they can fight with their tank no matter what happens.”

Fully understanding their tanks and conducting such intense training is what separates the Marines from other militaries, according to Gordon.

“Most militaries man tanks; the Marine Corps equips Marines with tanks. And that’s a big difference,” he said.