FORT BENNING, GA, UNITED STATES
FORT BENNING, Ga. – It was a humid day with a cloudy overhang; nothing like the attitudes of the tank crew from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
The Stallion crew was about to embark on a journey for the first annual Sullivan Cup, which in its first year has already earned a prestigious title.
“You are the best of the best in your units, your units chose you to represent them,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas James, the Armor School commandant.“The winners of this competition will be known as the best tank crew in the Army, the best tank crew in the world.”
The four-day challenge, May 7 to 11, full of rigorous physical and mental exhaustion, tests both the character and competence of the tankers, explained Command Sgt. Maj. Miles Wilson, the senior non-commissioned officer of the Armor School.
It was named after retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, known to many as an “inspiration” and “someone soldiers look up to.” He was also the 32nd Chief of Staff for five years, from June 1991 to June 1995.
“I’m proud that someone thought enough of me to put my name on that trophy,” Sullivan said about the honor. “If you think any differently, you are sadly mistaken.”
The competition began about four months ago for these Stallion tankers, beginning as an internal challenge within the Ironhorse Brigade to select which crew would compete.
“When I learned I was one of the chosen tankers for the Sullivan Cup crew, I was excited,” said Chicago native, Spc. Sam Garcia, loader for the Stallion crew, and assigned to Company C.
Although the soldiers weren’t exactly sure what the cup stood for at first or what challenges they were about to face, it did not stop them from feeling privileged for earning the chance to compete in the event.
“When I first heard about the competition, I wasn’t sure what it was, but after learning about it I was excited and couldn’t believe I was chosen to represent my unit when there are so many great tank commanders,” said Kearny, N.J. native, Sgt. 1st Class Oscar Ayala, the Stallion tank commander assigned to Company D. “It felt great to know that my chain of command has faith and confidence in me.”
The crew is a young crew having trained together for only a few months prior to the competition, but they were still a success.
“Our crew hasn’t been together but for almost three months now,” Ayala, a four-time veteran, said about his young crew. “But it didn’t hinder us in our success.”
Ayala went on to explain that it helped to have an experienced tank commander and gunner, along with a young loader and driver who quickly soaked up new information.
“The crew did outstanding, of course we had our speed bumps but we moved on,” said Missoula, Mont. native, Sgt. Owen Zechman, the Stallion gunner, and assigned to Company C.
Four months later, the crew arrived at Fort Benning, Ga. to begin their run for the Sullivan Cup.
First, the crew arrived at Patton Hall to ensure all paperwork was in order and receive their housing.
Later that evening, the Stallions, along with 14 other highly qualified crews, attended a meet and greet followed by a social allowing them to mingle and relax.
Although relaxed, it was hard for the crews to hide their excitement and anticipation on their faces.
The initial day of the competition was long, hot and began before the sun rose. The first event was a physical training test where the crew passed with an average score of 303. They were the only crew who scored high enough to flow onto the extended scale.
After completing the PT test, the crew met in the motor pool where they were required to change a track on the tank. Even with the sun beating on the necks of the crew, they completed the event with a time of 47 minutes and 50 seconds, finishing in fifth place.
With the best PT score and a top place in the maintenance challenge, the crew moved on to the next event with an overall rank of third place.
Immediately following the maintenance challenge the crews went into the Gunnery Skills Training portion. Here, the crews experienced their first up and down emotional experience of the competition.
The GST consisted of four events, one for each member of the crew.
The tasks involving the assembling and disassembling the M240 and .50-caliber machine guns, loading rounds in the tank, and breeching, proved to be a challenge for the crew, leaving them with a 50 percent win.
“At the time I didn’t know if it was timed or just a ‘Go’ or ‘No-Go’ event. But I know the weapon inside and out, I could assemble and disassemble the weapon with my eyes closed,” Ayala said about the .50-cal. challenge, his favorite part of the competition. “I outperformed all other competitors and completed with five minutes and 45 seconds.”
The day ended with an Armored Fighting Vehicle Identification Test, in which the crew took the gold, earning them third place overall.
The second day was the crew’s ‘moneymaker,’ according to 1st Sgt. Mark Poole, the most senior non-commissioned officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, of the Stallion Battalion.
“Each of you should feel very much a part of history, and very much recognize your own talents,” Sullivan told the crews during a speech that started their day.
Although Sullivan was not someone the crews were familiar with, they found him to be inspiring.
“He showed what it’s like to be versatile as a tanker, because of the number of types of tanks he has been on,” said Indianapolis native, Spc. Jason Dickens, the driver for the Stallion crew, assigned to Company C. “I have only been on one type and it’s been a challenge in itself.”
That morning the crew took first in the Advanced Gunnery Training Simulator and the Close Combat Tactical Trainer, and placed among the top three crews in the Combat Driver Trainer and the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000.
The Stallions started the day in third, quickly moved up to second and completed the day with first place.
The morning of May 9, the crew eagerly headed out to the range to participate in the small arms competition and the secret ‘mystery’ event.
“My favorite event was the small arms challenge. I like to shoot my rifle and .9-mm, and it’s one of my better skills,” Dickens admitted. “Being the driver I don’t get to shoot much, so it was refreshing.”
The mystery event was a loaders engagement, with five targets for the loaders to knock down. Unfortunately all targets were missed, dropping the crew into third place.
“This is a very difficult portion of the course,” James told the bystanders. “The targets are up to 900 meters away.”
The rest of the afternoon, the crew rested and prepared for the evening’s night-fire gunnery event.
With a thick fog rolling in, many of the crews had difficulty finding the targets, resulting in postponing many of the crew’s night-fire portion until early the next morning.
Immediately following the completion of the night-fire alibis, the daytime gunnery, and final event, began.
“It was the final event and I was nervous,” Garcia said about his favorite event. “I had an adrenaline rush built up, and I was able to shoot a lot of bullets. We shot four out of six targets.”
With completing both day and night gunnery in a high ranking position, the crew took home second place.
“We really came together as a team to bring home a win for our unit,” Dickens said about their second place victory. “It was an honor and privilege because there are a lot of tankers who would have loved to compete; this was the greatest achievement in my Army career.”
Not only did the crew consider second place a small victory, but they also believe the competition will help bring back basic tank skills that have been lost due to the rapid deployment rate.
“This competition was really a test,” Zechman concluded. “It really showed what the best tankers can do. I believe it’s going to bring back what tankers are supposed to do. Since the war began we have gotten away from it, but I believe this will help bring it back.”
||FORT BENNING, GA, US
This work, Ironhorse takes silver in first annual Sullivan Cup, by SGT Bailey Kramer, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.