Saturday, February 21, 2009

Then and Now--My Team

Early in 1976, when I made sergeant for the second time and I was a new tank commander, I was in charge of three men, my crew. We trained together at Fort Carson, Colorado, for several months with the specific goal of qualifying at annual tank gunnery. As an ex-Air Force soldier, I really wanted to qualify distinguished (expert in tank weapons), since the Army considers service in the Air Force somewhere below the Cub Scouts on a difficulty scale. The three men on my crew were 19, 19 and 21 years old. One of the 19-year-olds was married with one child and one on the way. He was my loader. The other was married with no kids; he was my driver. The 21-year-old was single and my gunner. I was among the oldest 25% of the unit at 23-years-old.

We did fire distinguished in August of that year. Partly because I drilled my crew more than most of the other tank commanders and partly because my gunner was mostly a rumpled, grumbling lousy soldier, but he was an awesome gunner. The targets on the final test, the moving range, were pop-up panels the size of tanks in the open and tank turrets behind berms. We mostly fired armor piercing, a round with a flat trajectory at distances below 1000 meters. But the final shot that got us the top category was a truck-sized target at 2350 meters. We had to fire a high explosive shell at that target. HE is low velocity with an arc of 50 meters above the gun at 2350 meters distance. My gunner punched a hole in the center of that target with the second shot.

Tank Commander is wearing the beret, loader is wearing the helmet. The driver sits in the middle, front, just visible underneath the gun. The gunner is inside the turret just ahead of the tank commander.

My team now is simply three members of the maintenance team who tell me when and where they are when they are not in the barracks or at work. In the 1970s, I would have described the typical soldier as a 19-year-old from either the inner city or the rural south, married with one child and one on the way. His wife was 17. He enlisted because he needed a job with health benefits.

My team now are a 20-year-old welder, a 21-year-old dispatch clerk, and a 47-year-old mechanic. I see them at formations and get text messages from them when they go to the PX or the gym. I do work with the mechanic at times, but for the most part, everyone has different training specific to their jobs. Very different from the training combat units go through.

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