NEAR CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti -- Though it was certainly not the biblical end of the world, the ?Four Horsemen? of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) were seen roaming the ranges and beach near Camp Lemonier, Djibouti July 13-17 during the MEU?s recent training exercise.
?The Four Horsemen,? otherwise known throughout Battalion Landing Team 1/8 as Tanks Platoon, consist of four M1A1 Main Battle Tanks. In Djibouti, the Marines of Tanks Platoon got a rare opportunity to push their tanks ashore and fire their M256 120mm main guns.
Along with firing their main guns, tank crewmen also fired their tanks? M240 and M2 .50 caliber machine guns and performed essential maintenance.
?This was outstanding training. I have not been this motivated the entire deployment,? said Sgt. Brit Higgins, a tank commander.
The Marines of Tanks Platoon, like many Marines embarked aboard the ships of the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, are limited in the kinds of training that they can conduct on ship. The Marines were excited to be able to bring their tanks ashore and practice their warfighting skills.
For Lance Cpl. Josh Lopez, a loader for one of the tanks, being able to light up the range with his M240 machine gun was the highlight of the training. ?The tanks are easy to operate and it is a lot of fun to be able to send rounds down range,? he said.
Once in position, the tanks were given their first fire mission. The loader removed a round from the storage area of the tank and loaded the gun. Then the gunner aimed in on the target and waited for the tank commander to give him the order to fire.
With a push of a button, the ground shook as a ball of burning steel shot out of the gun tube, sending the projectile hurling down range as a dust cloud moved across the front of the nearly 67-ton vehicle.
For more than an hour, two tank crews took turns firing their main guns and .50 caliber machine guns. After expending all of their rounds, the Marines moved the tanks forward to fire their smaller caliber machine guns.
The deep roar of the 1,500 horsepower turbine engine echoed through the dusty plain as the tank?s tracks crushed the rocky soil beneath it en route to its next location. After expending all their ammunition, the tanks fired their smoke grenades to conceal their movement back to the beach.
For the tanks that participated in the live-fire training, several hours of necessary maintenance awaited them with four hours of maintenance required for every hour of operation, explained 1st Lt. Gregory Buchanan, Tanks platoon commander.
Once reembarked aboard ship, the crews took a day to rest and then began the process of cleaning the various weapons on the tank, as well as performing detailed maintenance inspections on all of the vehicles? components.
While it takes a lot of work to maintain and deploy these powerful beasts, the Marines who man the ?Four Horsemen? certainly didn?t seem to mind. With every blast of their 120mm main gun and thunderous reverberation of the steel beneath them, these Marines remembered clearly how fun it is to be a Marine tanker with the ?Four Horsemen.?
To learn more about ?The Four Horsemen? and the rest of the 26th MEU (SOC), visit them on the web at www.26meu.usmc.mil.