News: Tank’s deadliest weapon: teamwork
Story by Cpl. Marco Mancha
COMBAT OUTPOST SHIR GHAZAY, Helmand province, Afghanistan -- John Wooden, who is accepted as one of the most successful basketball coaches of all-time, had many philosophies about teamwork. “It takes 10 hands to score a basket,” was one philosophy he was most famous for which emphasized the importance of every player on a basketball team. A tank’s success on the battlefield is also defined by the teamwork of its four crewmen, who each play a vital role. The mission cannot be completed without every member on the tank.
The tank crews with Alpha Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), work as a team to accomplish their mission and bring peace of mind to their fellow Marines.
The team consists of four tank crewmen, each with a specific, yet equally important job required to operate the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. A tank crewman usually begins his journey as a tanker either in the driver’s position or as a loader.
A driver pilots the tank through all types of terrain and has full control of the tank’s maneuverability. He also helps the tank’s loader and gunner with all maintenance before and after a mission.
Lance Cpl. Richard Brown of Brooklyn, N.Y., worked as a driver and is now a gunner with the battalion. He said it’s no easy task taming the 1,500 horsepower engine powering the 70-ton armored tank.
“A driver needs to be cautious of everything and stay focused,” said Brown. “You pretty much hold the lives of the rest of the guys in the tank in your hands.”
Brown worked his way to the gunner’s position by proving he was tactically proficient in both the driver and loader positions. The 2004 Prospect Heights High School graduate is now the second in command behind the tank commander and is responsible for targeting any enemy threats that cross the main gun’s path.
“I do a lot of scanning of the area and if the tank commander needs anything, he looks to me to make sure it happens,” said Brown. “I maintain the tank -- make sure everyone from the TC to the driver is good to go, and if I have a happy crew then I have a happy tank.”
Brown is in charge of making sure the Marines work together to maintain the tank and makes sure everything is in its correct position. The TC relies on the gunner, like a coach would rely on his team captain, to lead his teammates to victory.
The loader is another necessary and vital position within the tank. The team relies on the loader to arm the main gun and 70-pound rounds as quickly as possible and provide rear security while the rest of the team covers their sectors. A loader has only seconds to completely transfer a 120mm round from the ammunition rack, load it into the main gun and get out of the way before the tank can fire. Six inches separate the thundering recoil of the main gun from the loader’s body – a recoil which could crush anyone in its path.
The TC gives the signal to fire the round once the round is loaded. Staff Sgt. Kareem O. Cox is a TC with the unit and assumes leadership and responsibility for the vehicle and crew. The Philadelphia native is similar to a coach who directs his team’s every move on the gridiron and assures everyone is on the same page of the playbook.
Cox, a tanker of more than four years, knows when a tank crew works together they could be considered one of the deadliest weapons on the battlefield. The tank is nearly unstoppable after adding three machine guns, an armored turret, and a main gun with an accurate firing range of up to 4,000 meters into the mix.
Cox, 26, also said a connection is naturally built when you spend countless hours going on missions with your tank crew.
“The bond you build is like no other,” said Cox. “The stories you have with those Marines you’ll never forget. The missions you go on are so long and exhausting that you depend on each other to keep moving.”
Tankers regularly perform overwatch missions for their fellow Marines and other coalition forces. An overwatch mission consists of providing security for the Marine engineers and infantrymen on the ground, improving roads and building a better future for Afghanistan. A single overwatch mission can last an entire day with the main gun turret and driver’s compartment reaching temperatures well above 100 degrees. Cox and his Marines must endure long hours and rough temperatures with only hot water, cooling vests, and electrolyte beverages to quench their thirst.
Teamwork is just as important when the tank crew is between missions. Hours of sitting in a tank and providing overwatch in hot temperatures make it a challenge for the Marines to continuously stay alert. They combat the fatigue by talking to each other and constantly checking their sectors for any signs of unusual activity.
The work doesn’t stop there. “After a mission is when the real fun begins,” said Brown.
The armored tank demands respect from any challenger and it’s up to the tank crew to keep their tank running smoothly by performing hours of maintenance. The monstrous vehicle requires up to 10 hours of maintenance for every hour it is operating.
“I work hard and do what I can for the Marines around me so they don’t work any harder than they have to,” said Brown. “The tank itself demands maintenance and spending all those hours on it to keep it running (and it) is something I don’t mind doing because I know it will keep us safe when it really matters.”
Editor’s note: The battalion is currently attached to 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.