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For many Soldiers, training and keeping their skill sets sharp are part of every day life at Fort Benning.
The Soldiers of 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, 316th Cavalry Brigade, however, dont usually have many opportunities to brush up on their cavalry skills.
1st Squadron largely serves a support role as drivers for various programs of instruction across the Maneuver Center of Excellence, but over the past two weeks, the squadron has been able to take advantage of a rare training opportunity.
For the first time since moving from Fort Knox, Ky., the squadron conducted live gunnery at Carmouche Range Sept. 16-27 involving Cavalry Fighting Vehicles, Humvees and Abrams tanks.
Our unit is inherently in a support role, said Lt. Col. Mark Brown, squadron commander. We support training across a large number of courses that Fort Benning and the Maneuver Center of Excellence offer. This is the one time that we can collectively get together and focus on training our own people and developing the skill sets they know they need so when they leave here and transition back into an operational unit, they will at least have had exposure to these things.
The tank portion of the gunnery range was held Sept. 23-27, and for many tank crew members, it was their first time conducting live training.
This is the first time Ive actually been able to shoot a gunnery, and its unlike any feeling Ive ever had, said Sgt. Thomas Starner of B Troop. Its absolutely amazing.
Plans for the exercise have been in the works for more than a year now, with months of training, tests and simulations necessary in order to prepare the Soldiers for the live fire. Brown said he identified the need for the exercise upon assuming command of the squadron.
When I took command a year and a half ago, we recognized that our Soldiers, tankers and scouts dont get the opportunity to train on the skill sets they need to remain current and competitive for promotion and advancement, he said. So far, all the feedback is positive from everyone thats doing this. Theyve been saying, Thanks. We needed this.
Capt. Benjamin Staats, who worked extensively on the planning of the exercise, said the key to preparing was finding time for training in between various duties in support of MCoE POIs.
They might have to do four hours today and maybe eight hours the next week and just kind of fit it in where they can, Staats said. Its just piecing it together.
Brown said the months of training paid off, as the tank crews performed admirably despite their lack of experience.
The tankers have been doing better than we expected, Brown said. I think a lot of that is because we focused on gunnery early and started training on this back in February. Weve progressed and weve tracked. The only thing thats holding them up is a few mechanical issues and troubleshooting that happens with any type of mechanized operation. As far as targeting, theyre spot on and the scores are reflecting that.
Brown also said that the exercise will prove to be valuable not just for the Soldiers participating, but for future generations as well.
I have over 20 years of service, and this used to be a routine training event 10 years ago, he said. A lot of those skills and a lot of that exposure has been lost because some of our older NCOs and officers have left the service. Its important for the few folks like myself who know how this is supposed to be run and who know what right looks like to pass it on to the younger Soldiers. To see them execute this to standard in just two weeks time is gratifying for me personally and beneficial for the Soldiers as they carry this experience forward into the rest of their service.
During the tank portion of the exercise, tank crews readied their tanks along a base line before moving to an ammunition pad to load ammo into the tanks.
From there, they moved to a ready line to await the towers command to enter the range. Once on the range, crews engaged a series of targets, both while on the move and while stationary.
After each trip down the range, crews returned to the tower to receive their scores and view a video of their run during an after-action review.
Starner said he and his crew were pleased with how their runs had gone.
I did about as good as I expected I would do, he said. There was a lot of training and hard work put into this. I was pretty happy with our whole crew. They were great and everything was smooth. The driver did a great job of giving us a smooth ride so I was able to lock on to the target and stay on it and never lose sight of it. Our loader was extremely fast with everything. He was constantly throwing rounds into the chamber and all the commands were on point.
Starner also said it was a thrill for him personally to be able to serve as the gunner for the first time.
I dont even know how to explain it, he said. Normally, Im always on MRAPs or other mounted vehicles. With this, the feeling of knowing that you have the control over that big trigger and youre the one causing that big boom is an amazing feeling. Staats, meanwhile, said it was gratifying to see all the planning and hard work finally come to fruition.
Its awesome, being that the coolest thing Ive ever done in the Army is taking a tank down range and firing live rounds, he said. Its that team cohesion you get to experience because youve worked together to get to this point and youre finally here. You see it pay off when you get to go down range and utilize this tank and see what it can do. I envy the guys that are out here doing this.
For Starner, he said he was enjoying the change of pace the exercise provided.
We dont get to do this on a normal basis, so its pretty awesome when we get to come out here and do what we were meant to do and what we were trained to do.