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Wednesday, Jul. 20, 2011

Final tank, Bradley gunnery wraps up at Fort Knox

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Abrams tankers and Cavalry scouts have fired their last rounds downrange at Fort Knox, Ky., in one station unit training.

The 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, and 5th Squadron, 15th Cavalry Regiment, conducted the final gunnery sessions and field-training exercises on the Kentucky post last week, setting up the Armor School’s final push to Fort Benning before the Sept. 15 deadline for Base Realignment and Closure. The last classes are set to graduate Thursday.

Fort Knox has been Armor’s home since 1940. Unit leaders called it the end of an era but said they were excited about moving into the facilities built at Harmony Church that will serve as their new training platforms under the Maneuver Center of Excellence.

“It’s a little bit sad, it’s a little bit exciting going somewhere new,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Shane Chapman, of the 194th Armored Brigade’s 1-81 Armor. “We’re looking forward to the move. At the same time, all my Soldiers have called this home. It’s been the home of Armor for more than 70 years. … That makes it special for all the Armor crewmen in the past, all the ones here today and all those who are going to start training down at Fort Benning.”

Soldiers in Cavalry scout and tank training tackled the final live-fire event July 7.

“These are the final big bullets going downrange,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Pelham, a drill sergeant with B Troop, 5-15 Cav. “We’ll pick it up down at Fort Benning. But it’s good. We’re making history.” The training is crucial for Soldiers, some of whom could get deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq within a matter of weeks, said Capt. John Moriarty, B Troop’s commander. The Cavalry scouts fired the M240 B and .50-caliber machine guns, along with the Bradley fighting vehicle’s 25 mm main weapon and 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. They engaged targets up to 1,500 meters away.

“They’ll get additional training if they go to a unit that has Bradleys, typically a heavy or Infantry brigade combat team, but it’s really important for them to get a solid foundation and solid base here to build upon,” Moriarty said. “Cavalry scouts are the eyes and ears of a commander on the battlefield. They’re out front and on the sides, conducting reconnaissance and security operations, trying to knock out the enemy’s recon and not get detected. We say they’re out there alone and unafraid.”

Spc. Drew Sims, of B Troop, said the Cavalry Soldiers looked forward to firing the big guns. They also understand their place in history.

“It’s exciting to finally get on the range and shoot ’em. It’s an awesome kind of power that you don’t really understand until you shoot it,” he said. “It’s an honor to come through as the last class, especially with so many who have come before us. … Nobody else can say they’re the last class except us.” Meanwhile, 153 Soldiers from C Company, 1-81 Armor, were wrapping up tank gunnery in the “Gold Phase” of their advanced individual training. They rotated through the driver, loader and gunner stations inside the armored vehicles.

The tankers completed a gunnery skills test, which measured their ability to clear, load and unload all weapons systems and evacuate a tank. During the field-training exercise, they got more exposure to driving, land navigation and mount operations.

“It’s exceedingly important,” said Capt. Thane Keller, commander of C Company, 1-81 Armor. “This is the bread and butter of their job.”

The Abrams tank features multiple weapons systems, including a 120 mm cannon.

“You can feel and hear the concussion from a long ways off,” Keller said. “The car alarms are always going off out here. It’s a real piece of firepower. That’s why they call it the combat arms of decision.”

The tank crews zeroed in on a few marks past 3,000 yards, but most were in the 1,400-meter range. Soldiers engage with both a solid kinetic shell and heat-based chemical round, day and night.

“To see that round travel approximately one mile a second is pretty awesome,” said Staff Sgt. Jarrod Mendum, a C Company drill sergeant.

After hearing about tank capabilities in the classroom, seeing its firepower firsthand was a far different experience for some Soldiers.

“It actually startled me to begin with,” Pvt. Calvin Edlin said of the main-gun blasts. “But I’m ready to get up there and get my turn and fire it.”

Combining Armor and Infantry elements at one location will significantly boost Army operations and training, Pelham said.

“It’s a great concept,” he said. “There’s always been that competition between the tankers, scouts and the Infantrymen. … One spot, easier to control the training, so that way, we’re putting out a better product for the fighting force.”

Keller’s company has 36 Soldiers serving as drill sergeants, tank commanders or training-room NCOs. Twenty-six will be coming with him to Fort Benning.

He said a “phenomenal” training package awaits Armor and Cavalry units at Harmony Church and around post, compete with new barracks, classrooms and ranges.

“Rarely do you ever fall into brand-new equipment,” he said. “It’s going to be unbelievable. It’s all digital.” Still, after the seven-decade stint at Fort Knox, Armor is leaving a ton behind.

“All that history is here. It’s kind of strange to drive around the base and see all the Armor and Cav going away,” Moriarty said. “But it’s important to get down to Fort Benning and truly combine our forces — Armor and Infantry fighting side by side in support of each other. It’s pretty cool to be part of something this big.” Editor’s note: Ron Andruss of Benning TV contributed to this report.

Get ready for tanks that go boom

The Armor School began tank training July 10 on Fort Benning, and the sessions will become more frequent as the final elements depart Fort Knox, Ky., for the Maneuver Center of Excellence. The surrounding community will be exposed to an increase in training noise due to the proximity of installation tank ranges to the northern and eastern boundaries of post.

Fort Benning is now the focal point for preparing Armor, Cavalry and Infantry Soldiers to fight and win wars, MCoE officials said. Therefore, the sounds you hear in the distance from time-to-time are actually the sound of America’s Soldiers preparing to take the fight to the enemy. These sounds can be a nuisance — loud booms when you may be trying to sleep — but be assured these activities are vital to the Army’s success and its defense of the nation.

As the school comes online, officials will look at ways to mitigate the noise so the sound disruption is lessened without any degradation to training. Training is scheduled in advance and lists are published monthly indicating the type, location and times it will occur. This list is available on Fort Benning’s “Smoke and Sound” website at www.benning.army.mil/garrison/smokeandsound. It’s also sent via e-mail to community leaders from Columbus, the post and surrounding areas.

If the new noises cause damage to your home or other property, there are ways to seek recompense. While the MCoE can’t always prevent the negative effects of training sounds, the command does have a claims process. For more information, call 706-545-2238 or email benn.web@conus.army.mil.

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