Reporters’ Notebook: Cramped quarters for Iraq tank crew
AL DULIYAH, Iraq — Although the M1-A1 Abrams tank looks like a monster from the outside, on the inside, it seems impossible to imagine a four-man crew tucked inside its cramped quarters.
Sgt. Eduardo Colon, a gunner for the 1st Battalion, 4th Cavalry Regiment’s Troop B, said that tankers tend to have problems with their backs because of the cramped conditions. The gunner’s back takes the brunt of bumps because his chair has very little padding and is very compact. Only the tank’s driver, who can customize his seat with pillows or blankets, can insulate himself against the shocks.
“It’s a pretty smooth ride” for the driver, said Capt. John Trylch, Troop B commander.
The other crewmembers, the loader and the tank commander, have the option of riding partially exposed, standing in the tank’s hatches.
And as hot and heavy as the mandatory body armor may be, the equipment saves soldiers from bruises, considering how crewmembers get banged around while standing in the hatches.
Tanks also have a little climate control, especially for gunners and drivers, the two members of the four-man crew who are inside the tank when it’s moving.
The tanks have heaters and air conditioning, but with both the loader and the commander’s hatches open, within an hour Tuesday, Colon’s clothing was drenched.
“You get used to it,” Colon, of Austin, Texas, said with a grin. “Really, you do.”
And in the desert summer heat, by midday, all the metal on the outside of the tank gets so hot it will blister skin, even through the leather gloves that soldiers often wear.
Even inside the tank, metal parts, such as the small loader’s stool, become uncomfortable to sit on or touch.
But still, the tankers get a kick out of operating their vehicle. The M1-A1 is unusual because it does not have to stop to fire a round. It can “shoot and scoot,” sending accurate rounds downrange on the move.
Tankers say there are few rushes that match the feeling of “fighting a tank” while moving at top speed.
“If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it,” said Colon.
When Iraqi police brought a load of captured weapons onto their Najaf compound last week, many of the rocket-propelled grenades had electrical tape wrapped around the top of the nose cones.
No, the tape wasn’t there to hold the warhead together; it’s there to defeat the electromagnetic force shield protecting American tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.
Or so they believe.
One Iraqi said that the technique was brought from Palestinian fighters who have migrated to Iraq and passed on their “trade secret.”
Don’t bathe in water
Soldiers working in the main palace at the 1st Infantry Division’s Task Force Danger headquarters near Tikrit get a graphic demonstration of how Saddam Hussein and his cronies lived in luxury while many of his people struggled.
The palace, which is sandstone on the outside and hand-carved and polished marble inside, features lavish bathrooms, many complete with bathtubs large enough to fit six to 10 people.
Unfortunately, troops are not allowed to use them because the plumbing was so poorly installed that the water backs up instead of draining.
Meanwhile, troops can see Iraqis still bathing in the nearby Tigris River, where untreated waste water and even raw sewage is still pumped.
Aging tanker trucks fill up in the same spot.