Marine tanks prepare for their first missions in Afghanistan

By on Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Afghanistan: Early versions of the tank shaped the battlefields of World War I, and more sophisticated versions helped quickly end the Gulf War for the U.S. Now tanks have landed in Afghanistan to help bring security to Helmand province.

Marines with Delta Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Forward), began preparing for upcoming missions by sighting-in the main cannon and machine guns on their M1A1 Abrams tanks during a firing range exercise at Camp Leatherneck, Jan. 13.

The tanks, which were flown here from Kuwait, are not the vehicles the Marines have trained with and some preparation must be done before they are ready for combat, said Capt. Daniel Hughes, commanding officer of Delta Co., 1st Tanks.

“The first order of business is to bore sight and screen your tank,” Hughes added. “Screening ensures that when you fire the main cannon on your tank, you hit the exact target you want to hit.”

Even though these Marines have only been in Afghanistan about a week, everything seems to be going well. While the Marines bore sight several times a year, the combat environment makes every adjustment of the main gun just that much more important.

“They require a tremendous amount of maintenance,” Hughes said. “If you go on a four or five-hour patrol to support the men on the ground, you will have four or five hours of maintenance when you get back just to keep the tanks in the fight.”

Once the preparation is complete and maintenance done, the tankers say they will be ready for their upcoming missions.

“We hope to support the infantryman on the ground and help them complete their mission,” said Hughes, a 38-year-old native of Olympia, Wash. “We also hope to intimidate the enemy and provide superior and accurate firepower to kill the enemy, and only the enemy.”

The tanks have another advantage in this fight besides intimidation and firepower. Hughes said the tracks and armor allow an M1A1 Abrams tank to withstand an improvised explosive device better than any other vehicle in Afghanistan.

While tanks have never been in Afghanistan, neither have most of the Marines with Delta Co.

“It’s definitely humbling to be the first tankers in Afghanistan,” said Cpl. Todd Cross, a tank crewman with Delta Co., 1st Tanks. “We want to make a good name for ourselves and we want to leave a good name for the tanks who come after us as well.”

“I am looking forward to the challenges and am definitely excited about what we are going to do,” said Cross, a 23-year-old Elkridge, Md.

After the rounds were fired, the tanks’ sights were properly aligned and ready for battle. The Marines will continue firing rounds on ranges to sharpen their skills until they leave for their first-ever mission in Helmand province.

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