Heat could be seen shimmering off the new M1A3 Abrams tanks lined up on Fort Stewart’s Red Cloud Range this week. Short, rapid bursts of sound signaled machine-gun fire and heavy, intermittent booms that echoed and vibrated across field and forest indicated the firing of large artillery rounds.
Soldiers with Company C, 1st Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team are being certified over the next couple of months on how to successfully operate the latest, most technologically upgraded Abrams tanks available to the Army.
The M1A3s have a more advanced fire-control system and therefore can shoot farther and more accurately than the older M1 version, Sgt. 1st Class Jamie Peck said. He said the battalion has 14 of these new tanks, and a crew of four soldiers mans each vehicle.
Peck, a tank platoon sergeant, is responsible for training soldiers in basic tank duties, such as fire commands and battle drills.
“Each crewman knows what they’re supposed to do and when to do it,” he said.
These upgraded Abrams tanks are “faster and more lethal” he said. Therefore, crew members must learn to synchronize their individual tasks. Each tank crew has a driver, a loader who loads the gun, a gunner who engages and shoots targets and a vehicle commander who is responsible for the crew’s coordination, according to Peck.
“It takes a lot of group coordination, a lot of practice,” he said. “When the round hits the target, it’s a good feeling.”
Turning to Capt. Clifton McClung and Sgt. Dustin Gautney with 2nd Brigade Public Affairs, he added, “I can’t believe we get paid for this.”
The Abrams tanks weigh about 72 tons each and have a maximum firing range of 5,000 meters, or just over 3 miles, McClung said.
“We can see farther than that (3 miles),” Peck said, referring to the tank’s viewfinder.
“The new tanks (tracking systems) are fully digitized,” Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said. “They have a new sight for the commander that is independent of the gunner’s sight.” Therefore, the commander can scan for other targets while the M1A3 is in the field, he said.
Larson said this gunnery tank exercise falls within the midpoint of the brigade’s reset phase. Soldiers are trained first in individual skills and weapons qualifications, than the training builds to the squad, platoon, company and battalion levels, he explained.
“It’s the crawl, walk, run type of training,” Larson said.
The tank gunnery exercise has been ongoing for a week and a half, according to Gautney. The exercise will last about three months, McClung said.
Peck said gunnery certification is completed every six months at the crew level and once a year at the platoon level.
“Once a crew is certified, you want to keep them together,” he said. “It takes a brigade commander’s thumbs-up to break up a crew.”