MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
First Tank Battalion, along with other units from 1st Marine Division, completed Steel Knight, a Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force level exercise, at the Combat Center Nov. 26.
The combined arms exercise was the biggest yet, said Lt. Col. Tom Gordon, the commanding officer of 1st Tanks and native of Boston.
“We had more than 7,000 personnel on the ground supporting the exercise this year,” Gordon said. “We also fielded more tanks at once than we ever have before.
“First Tanks in particular fielded five companies of tanks,” he said. “We had our four plus the Australian Defense Forces attached to us as another company.”
Gordon listed the array of units in support of the exercise as well as 1st Tanks.
“We had [Regimental Combat Team] 1; 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment; 11th Marine Regiment; with 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines; 1st Battalion, 11th Marines; 5th Battalion, 11th Marines. There was 1st [Light Armored Reconnaissance] Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 1 and Combat Logistics Battalions 5 and 7.”
Gordon said the focus of the exercise was on the physical aspect and running through the training.
“The exercise has a kinetic focus,” he said. “It’s to demonstrate and train in the full spectrum of capabilities of a MAGTF.”
Gordon said the exercise has evolved steadily since its inception in the early 1990s.
“Steel Knight started out as an exercise with just tankers,” he said. “It’s grown immensely to now being a division exercise and we have parts of the air wing involved as well.”
Marines who have participated in the exercise in the past still see the value in their training.
“It’s a good exercise every year to get some time tanking,” said Lance Cpl. Henry Gray, a tanker with Company D, 1st Tanks, from Waldorf, Ind. “It’s our job after all. Besides, we get to put a lot of steel on target doing this.”
Lance Cpl. Devin Burleson, a tanker with Co. D from San Angelo, Texas, got his first taste of the exercise this year and said it was one of the most impressive things he has ever seen.
“Hearing the artillery overhead, the [Mine Clearing Line Charges], its all pretty badass,” Burleson said. “It’s my first Steel Knight. I sure hope the rest of them are this good.”
Gordon said the exercise went better than expected this year, given the challenges they faced, in terms of logistics and vehicles breaking down.
“The Marines did outstanding this year,” he said. “They kept more tanks moving than we ever have at once. We only had two of them go down, which is outstanding. The Marines from the logistics and support elements of the exercise really pulled through and did a great job to keep everything we had in the fight.”
The exercise is scheduled to take place again during winter next year. With changes still yet to be made, this year has certainly been the most impressive yet.