Soldiers test tank skills in 2014 Sullivan Cup competition

benw@ledger-enquirer.comMay 11, 2014 

Soldiers who train to serve their country from the 70-ton M1A1 tank get tested this week when the 2014 Sullivan Cup competition starts Monday at Fort Benning.

The four-day competition gives 19 four-man teams from around the world a chance to showcase their skills in maintenance, gunnery, physical fitness, driving and marksmanship abilities with the $4.5 million vehicle. The winner of the competition will be crowned the best tank crew in the Army.

"They have been waiting for this," said Capt. Dan Rebmann, commander of the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning's Camp Butler. "They are very excited about it."

The biennial competition is named in honor of retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, who served as deputy commander of the U.S. Armor School at Fort Knox, Ky., and chief of staff of the Army. The inaugural Sullivan Cup was held at Fort Benning in 2012.

For more than a week, Rebmann said three National Guard teams from Pennsylvania, Washington state and North Carolina have been at Fort Benning preparing for the contest. There also is a team from Canada in the competition.

"We want them to get use to the Fort Benning weather," Rebmann said. "For guys up north, it's a bit cooler up there."

On Wednesday, one crew spent time changing a section of track on the tank while another raised the vehicle off the ground to change a wheel that turns the track. One or both exercises may be part of challenges facing teams in the competition.

"It takes a real technique and a lot of luck," Rebmann said of changing the wheel on the massive vehicle. "It all depends on the bolts and the connectors."

During the change, a soldier has to lie on his back and place a special tool in a location to lift the tank off the ground.Sgt. 1st Class Bryan C. Bailey, commander of the National Guard tank crew from Danville, Pa., was pleased with his crew's efforts changing the wheel. This is the first competition for his crew.

"It's a good chance to get on tanks and prove that we've got the guts to try to be No. 1," he said.

While he didn't foresee any challenges in the event, Bailey said his crew trains on a different tank than the ones used at Fort Benning.

"It's a little bit different," he said. "It is a challenge to learn a new style."

Bailey, who works at a car dealership when he's not in uniform, believes the contest will be fast paced. Crews will be timed on each event to identify the top teams.

"Being fast-paced, I hope we can maintain the momentum going forward and not get stuck on one event," he said.

Bailey has been part of a tank crew for 13 years. His crew includes gunner Michael Shultz, driver Zachary Zondory and loader Timothy Humpal.

"Physical fitness and actual tactics are a piece of cake," he said. "We have been training for a long time."

To sharpen skills without firing a $1,000 live round at a target, crews are spending time in a gunnery simulator for training. The simulator saves money and gives soldiers the needed training.During the competition, many gunnery events take place at the Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex in the northeast section of the post. The winners will be announced Thursday during an awards ceremony. Tuesday through Thursday, buses will shuttle spectators from Tedford Hall in Harmony Church to the firing range.

Parking is free at Tedford Hall, where buses depart every two hours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"Anyone who wants to come out is welcome to come out and watch," said Elsie Jackson, a public affairs spokeswoman.

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