FORT PICKETT, Va. --
It's safe to say most people have never seen the awe-inspiring sight of a tank fire its main gun from up close, but for the Marines of Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s tank platoon, it's as common as going to the rifle range.
In order to prepare for their upcoming deployment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit this fall, the tank platoon practiced maneuvering and firing their tanks in a less than fully-operational status during a training exercise at Fort Pickett Va., Tuesday.
"We’re trying to improve our gunnery skills by utilizing (a degraded mode of) gunnery, vice using a precision tank," explained 1st Lt. Christopher Upton, the platoon commander for BLT 2/6's tank platoon. "We’re going to simulate self-induced faults and what that’s going to allow us to do is ‘fight the tank.’”
'Degraded mode of gunnery' is simply when the tank has a failure of one of its main components or if the tank had taken some battle field damage.
Under normal working conditions each tank has the ability to shoot on the move, use a laser range finder and easily account for wind, which can affect the flight of the round.
On a fully operational M1A1 tank there are several different types of weaponry it can fire.
"We’re firing sabot and .50 caliber machine gun as well as our 7.62 machine guns for the tank,” said Gunnery Sgt. Richard Betts, the platoon sergeant for BLT 2/6's tank platoon.
The Marines were given the confidence to know the tanks they were operating would still have the ability to fight even though their primary systems were down, Betts explained.
“We’re simulating that the tanks are broken,” Betts said. "We’re trying to train our crews to become proficient to allow them to ‘fight the tank’" in case they become damaged in combat.
It was important for the tankers to experience a different environment for this training so they could learn to adapt to any area under any circumstances, Betts said.
"Training the platoon in a different environment as opposed to what we’re used to, either at Camp Lejeune or at 29 Palms, readies the Marines to be able to adapt to any battlefield we go to," he said. "We’re not always going to go to Iraq, we’re not always going to go to the east coast of Africa; we could end up being in a place that’s very similar to this. It enables the Marines to adapt, which is something Marines are famous for."
Although the training was different from what they were used to, the Marines who participated in the event still enjoyed the opportunity to fire their weapons.
"I love my job, can’t wait to do it again," said Lance Cpl. David Hanson, a loader on the M1A1 Abrams Tank. "I like it; I get to shoot the big guns, which is what I signed up for."