MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Marines with the 1st platoon, Company D, 1st Tank Battalion
, qualified with their M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks during the platoon’s first gunnery qualification exercise at Combat Center
range 500 from Aug. 9-13.
“It’s the equivalent of the rifle range for tanks,” said 2nd Lt. Mathew Baldwin, the first platoon commander, Co. D., 1st Tanks. “We spend the week running the tanks around getting used to them, and then on the last day we qual.”
The platoon was formed in May and consists of many new Marines and tank crews who are still learning to work together, said Sgt. Kip Huhman, a tank commander in the platoon.
The gunnery qualification course of fire puts the tank crews in different scenarios in both offensive and defensive positions. In the defensive position, the tanks are strategically hidden behind berms, while Marines look through the scopes on top of the vehicle to identify their targets.
“If you are in a defensive position you are less exposed to the enemy,” Baldwin said. “It’s the same with the infantry. If people start shooting at them they hit the deck. They look for cover and concealment. It makes us look smaller but that means if you are going to fire you have to go up on the berm, fire, then move back down.”
When practicing offensive scenarios, the tanks head down a road as if on patrol or advancing on enemy positions. The Marines also train for tank-to-tank combat.
The large size of the range also adds to the difficulty for the tankers.
“There is so much area for us to shoot, so as a tanker it makes it hard for us to shoot gunnery because there are so many different [target] options for [evaluators] to put up,” Baldwin said. “You can’t predict, or know, ‘OK, it’s going to be a tank and it’s going to be here.’”
Unlike the rifle range where Marines focus on hitting static and slow-moving targets during gunnery, the crew is evaluated on how long it takes to find, engage and neutralize targets.
The Marines are tested during both day and night operations.
“Every table we do has a certain number of night engagements,” Baldwin said. “The biggest problem is you can’t see your targets unless they are in your sights.”
Drivers also have a harder time at night because they have a narrower view of the road, he added.
During the gunnery, tank crews have found problems with the tanks both big and small.
“The tanks break just sitting there,” Huhman said. “Without taking them out and exercising them, you usually don’t find a lot of problems.”
The crews work on fixing problems during their down time or around it. They call it “fighting the tanks.” If a problem impairs the tankers’ ability to operate too much, the crew “jumps tanks.” When they jump tanks they use another crew’s tank for their qualification
After completing their qualifications, 1st Platoon will join 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Enhanced Mojave Viper, a month-long combined arms exercise, while the rest of the company prepares for their gunnery at the end of the month.