Friday, June 1, 2012

Being a Tank Crewman

It is hard to explain about the relationship tankers develop with their tanks and fellow crew members.
When I first reached Fort Knox, Kentucky in the fall of 1985, I remember the first time I saw a tank.  We were in basic training walking along the side of the road when a tank column rolled by heading down the street.  They literally shook the ground.  The tankers were all wearing mirrored shades and looked too cool to be human.  Someday if I was lucky I was going to be one of those guys.
Basic training and AIT (Tank School) were combined.  We were blessed with eighteen weeks of the same Drill Sergeants.  We began training on the tanks right from the start.   Which ended up being a major lesson in Army training for when we graduated arrived at our first duty station they asked to see our tank training manuals.  We dug them out of our duffel bags and the Sergeant took them and threw them in the trash.  Tank training actually started then and there.   In Basic Training we were taught how to use track jacks to put the tracks back together.  In the real Army a driver drives the tracks together and uses a method similar to holding a stick shift vehicle still on a hill using the clutch to hold the tracks together while you hammer end connectors on the track blocks.  This is Very dangerous but very fast and effective. We learned every trick learned through years of actual combat training to fix, rig, patch, and make shit work fast and efficiently.  In combat seconds count and there is no Armor protecting you when you’re outside of the tank.  Tank drivers learn the do’s and don’ts of driving a tank without throwing a track.   The Grunts used to ask if they could get a ride and the standard answer was, “Hell yeah!  You guys keep the bullets from chipping the paint.”
Gunners and loaders practice things such as vacuum loading.  This is where the loader will hold a main gun round over the back of the gun so when the main gun fires and the breach opens automatically ejecting the spent round to the floor the loader lets go of the front of the round he was holding.  It will fall and the vacuum from the gun tube will suck the round into the breach.  When the rim at the back of the gun round hits the release levers it automatically closes the breach.  Essentially you just automatically reloaded a 120 millimeter gun.  The loader yells, “UP!”  The Gunner yells, “On the way!”  Hits the triggers and sixty tons of armor jumps again essentially the tank could load and fire as fast as the loader can grab another round and lift it over the gun and the gunner can sight in on a new target.  We used to be able to pop off five to six main gun rounds in less than a minute accurately hitting our targets.
Let me put that in perspective.  The tank holds 60 main gun rounds, at just five rounds a minute the tank will be out of ammo in just twelve minutes.  That’s plenty of time because the average life expectancy on the battlefield is measured in seconds.  If you get ten minutes you lived a blessed life.
When you’re in training they tell you that firing a tank is the closest thing to sex with a machine you will ever experience.  Being young, in excellent shape physically, and able to effectively have sex all night, you think ‘No Way.’  I remember the first time I fired a tank it felt emotionally the same way you do just as you climax, it was as good as sex but with no mess!  OMG!  No foreplay, no feelings, just you and a really big freaking gun that a trained crew could throw some majorly serious shit down range very fast.  When you’re sitting in the Gunners seat looking through the gun sights with your head pushed against the cushions around the sights and you yell, “On The Way!”  You squeeze those triggers and the tank jumps.  Flames and smoke roll out the barrel.   The dirt around the tank for about a fifty foot diameter rises to about three feet off the ground from the shock wave.  It’s like having sex with a machine!  You just can’t understand it until you do it.
Essentially a tank is sixty tons of exquisitely engineered machinery covered in space age armor.  It’s a machine, but it’s not alive, it has no soul and doesn’t even respect the crew members.  It will kill you in a second if you’re not careful at every step.  With a trained crew it becomes a beast.  A living breathing sneaking killing beast.  It can see in the dark under any conditions.  It can see your heat signature through the dark, fog or smoke.  It can drive through a freaking building, forge small rivers by driving right through the bottom of them.  It can go across mud monster trucks can’t get through at forty plus miles per hour and cross flat terrain at over seventy miles per hour.  She can shoot on the move accurately and engage multiple targets simultaneously.  You spend so much time training with your tank crew members you know them better than your own family.  You get that unspoken communication thing like married couples as the four of you work together to make this beast a living breathing hunting machine.
Life expectancy of the tank on an active battlefield is measured in seconds as it is the biggest threat on the ground.  Everything else pales to taking out the freaking tank.  They attack in groups with massive ground support to help protect them and give them the precious seconds to wreak havoc and gain superiority through shock and awe.  They do that job very well.  They are like hell on earth rolling over everything in their path and blowing the shit out of everything else.
When I saw this picture of a Russian man visiting his old tank from World War II I knew the feelings I would feel seeing my old tank again.  I recently was visited by T.J. Hooker my old friend and fellow tank crewman from my army days.  We didn’t have to talk a lot – we could look at each other and know.  We had a relationship forged in Armor from way back!  That picture stirred my heart and inspired this post.   My heart goes out to soldiers everywhere but I have a special place in my heart for the men of ARMOR!
A Shout out to the First of the Second Cav, and “Hell on Wheels” of the Third Armor Division.
May God Bless You.  Nobody prays for peace more than the soldier!


Tim Lee said...

Awesome story sir! I always wanted to be a tanker like you were, but I realized that I can't. Anyway! I learned things about being a tanker today. Thank you for your service!

Unknown said...

Thank you Brother for the memories I miss being out the live Firing! Great way to explain it! Your right too just unexplainable the feeing especially the first time... Its always the first time that feels the best!

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