Before heading to Iraq, tank crews test abilities during live-fire practice

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 12, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Soon the newly assembled four-member crew will be rumbling in their Abrams tank somewhere in Iraq.

But on Wednesday, the team from the 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment tested their skills together for the first time during a live-fire drill in Baumholder, where the local range was getting a heavy-duty workout.

“It went well. Only thing was the time,” said Staff. Sgt. Harry McLain, commander of the tank crew, shortly after his team’s first run at a series of targets.

McLain’s team, along with 13 other 1-35 Iron Knight crews, were taking part in a weeklong exercise in Baumholder, where units from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division are engaged in an assortment of live-fire drills.

Soldiers with the 1-35 had the somewhat rare opportunity to fire their tanks in their own backyard. Such exercises are typically conducted in Grafenwöhr.

The training will prepare the unit as the 2nd BCT gears up for a mission readiness exercise later this month and deploy to Iraq in early 2008.

“We’re maximizing the use out here,” said Maj. Roman Cantu, 1-35’s task force operations officer.

Cantu credited the close partnership with the German Army and range staff for creating more training opportunities.

Simulators are good, but nothing can replace the real thing, he said.

At Range 35, Iron Knight tank teams meandered down the paths, picking up speed as they moved from one target to the next.

From the watchtower, their performances were monitored by colleagues; strengths and weaknesses identified and noted for review after the drills.

The training prepares soldiers to think fast and fire accurately in a confused environment.

“It’s being able to identify and distinguish between friendly and unfriendly elements on the battle field,” Cantu said. “We’ve got to be able to execute that. It’s about the crew internally having that situational awareness.”

For Pfc. Michael Werner, a gunner getting his first live-fire experience, the exercise lived up to expectations.

“Hell of a rush,” Werner told his tank commander, following their first run.

As his team headed to the conference room to get their results, Werner felt confident that high marks would be coming.

“We hit all our targets,” he said.

Pfc. Aeteon Miles, a loader from 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment “Iron Knights,” brings ammunition aboard an M1A1 Abrams tank Wednesday at a range near Baumholder, Germany.

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