Texas-based tankers spend holiday season preparing for battle near N. Korea
By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 29, 2017
RODRIGUEZ LIVE FIRE RANGE, South Korea — Tank rounds have been screeching across mountains just a few miles south of the tense border with North Korea over the past two weeks, and they won’t stop until Christmas.
Amid Pyongyang’s recent missile test and a high-profile defection at the Joint Security Area, Texas-based tank crews from 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment have been conducting gunnery qualifications at Rodriguez Live Fire Range, the Army’s premiere training site near the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea.
“The first step in gunnery is qualifying that crew,” said Capt. Andrew Gregory, the battalion’s headquarters company commander.
To qualify, crews need to shoot seven out of 10 pop-up targets — five during the day and five at night, he said.
Qualified M1A2 Abrams tanks receive nicknames that crews, who earn buckled tanker boots, paint on the sides of their 120mm barrels. The nicknames and boots show that crews are ready for battle, said the 31-year-old native of Fort Wayne, Ind.
In Korea, tank crews prepare to fight on rough terrain. A company of 16 tanks might have to hold several miles of front line, Gregory said.
“They have to be fully confident that they can fight and win,” he said. “This fight (a potential conflict with North Korea) can come down to one or two tanks holding a critical road juncture or valley pass.”
Gregory said there are a lot of specific mission sets — such as countering weapons of mass destruction — that tankers need to know before battling a nation like North Korea.
“But the bottom line is we’re a combined-arms battalion that needs to conduct offensive and defensive tasks,” he said. “The tank crew is the building block for that.”
The tankers, known as “Mustangs” have grown field mustaches. They decorated one of their tanks with a small Christmas tree and celebrated Thanksgiving with a meal at the range.
“We have our families back at home and we have our Army family here with us,“ said Sgt. 1st Class Jamie Weaver, a platoon sergeant with Company A.
The 31-year-old from Shelbina, Mo., said Rodriguez is a challenging place to live but that sending rounds down range and training for tank-on-tank battles that he calls “grown-up laser tag” is what it’s all about.
“We actually get to do our job here,” he said. “This is our Super Bowl.”
Spc. Paul Carrico. 24, of Lawton, Okla., a loader who calls himself a “tank housewife” because it’s his job to keep the tank clean and the rounds prepped for firing, said he enjoys spending extra time with his tank.
“I sling 120mm rounds of freedom,” he said. “Nothing beats seeing the rounds go off and being the most lethal force on the battlefield.”