War 101: Don't bring a motorbike to a tank fight

Sgt. Frank Valli, Lance Cpl. David Willsie, Sgt. Robert Glace and Pvt. Mark Martinez, the crew of the Abrams main battle tank Freak Show, perform maintenance on their tank May 19, a day after gunning down an insurgent trying to escape on a motorcycle after attacking Marines.


By MATT MILLHAM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 27, 2011

MUSA QALA, Afghanistan — For the first five months of the deployment, insurgents were smart enough to stay out of Freak Show’s way.

That is until May 18, when a plain-clothes militant — or maybe more — fired a rocket-propelled grenade and a PKM machine gun at some 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment Marines on patrol near Patrol Base Salaam Bazaar, a new outpost on a route coalition forces are fighting to secure. The Marines sighted one fighter, who dropped his weapon, jumped on a motorcycle and fled.

Maybe the insurgent didn’t realize that Freak Show was so close. Maybe he thought he could outrun it. Or maybe he didn’t realize that you don’t bring a motorcycle to a tank fight.

Because that’s what Freak Show is: an Abrams main battle tank.

“A lot of times we just go out and sit and wait for something to happen,” said Lance Cpl. David Willsie, Freak Show’s driver.

But nothing usually does. Until last Wednesday, the tank platoon, part of Company D, 1st Tank Battalion, had just one operation in which it fired on enemy targets. The insurgents, Willsie said, are afraid of them.

After identifying the fighter, the Marine patrol radioed Freak Show, which was just on the other side of a complex of mud-walled compounds.

Willsie steered the tank around the block and came up almost directly behind the would-be hit-and-run insurgent.

“We knew who it was right off the bat, so we started engaging,” said Sgt. Frank Valli, who strafed the runaway gunner with the tank’s 7.62 millimeter machine gun.

“The main gun’s kind of overkill, especially because we don’t want to overdo it,” said 2nd Lt. Elliott Simpson.

The smaller gun was enough for the job.

“He somersaulted over the front of the motorcycle, did kind of like a side roll, and scampered behind a compound wall,” Valli said.

Freak Show’s crew lost sight of him after he disappeared into a compound, where they wouldn’t follow, even though it would have been nothing for the tank to bust through its mud walls.

“I don’t know if he got killed,” Simpson said. “He was definitely wounded.”


Twitter: @mattmillham