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Tankers Train With New Abrams

During Annual Training, South Carolina troops test their skills on updated equipment
South Carolina Army National Guard conducts gunnery exercises on the ranges of Fort Stewart, GA, April 14. Photo by SGT Brian Calhoun
South Carolina Army National Guard conducts gunnery exercises on the ranges of Fort Stewart, GA, April 14. Photo by SGT Brian Calhoun

FORT STEWART, GA Annual Training (AT) proved to be full of new challenges and experiences for the tankers of C and D companies, 1st Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment, 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Carolina National Guard, as they tested out some newly refurbished M1A1 Situational Awareness Abrams main battle tanks. 

Upon arriving at Fort Stewart, the combined arms battalion (CAB) fielded 29 newly equipped tanks, ones that have had their older analog systems transformed to the much newer digital systems. Each company received 14 Abrams tanks, and Headquarters and Headquarters Company acquired one.

AT was a time to fully execute the preparation and training that each tank crew had received over the past 12 months, examining their skills through the New Equipment Training (NET). The NET process is tailored for Soldiers to learn the new equipment and the systems before going out to the range. 

“For the past ten days, our crews have been tested by civilian program managers and have received practical hands-on training for the newly refurbished M1A1SA Abrams main battle tank,” says Captain Ben Thornton, training officer for 1/118th Combined Arms Battalion. “NET is a slow methodical process where Soldiers are able to spend a lot of hands-on time on the tanks before going out to the range.”

Thornton adds that each unit was processed through NET independently so crews could receive individual attention and pinpoint instruction.

“The training went very smooth,” says Sergeant Brad Caldwell, C Company, 1/118th CAB M1A1SA gunner and simulator instructor. A few of the changes with the M1A1SA were in the electronic systems, including circuit breakers, system diagnostic checks and a new forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sighting system, says Caldwell. The new FLIR system gives the crewmembers a better image for target acquisition and target ID, especially ones at greater distances, due to the enhanced zoom capability that was not available in the old system.

C Company, 1/118th, from Conway, SC, was the first unit to complete classroom instruction. The next phase for crews was the precise armament and accuracy checks, including zeroing weapons, before advancing to the gunnery tables on the ranges of Fort Stewart.

“Gunnery tables is the process where each four-man crew becomes qualified on the weapon system by engaging both stationary and moving targets,” says Thornton. Each crew completed tables 2, 5 and 6 before becoming fully certified on the new M1A1SA.

“It is always our goal to schedule time for our Soldiers to get as much hands-on training with their equipment as possible,” says Major Michael Reed, executive officer of the 1/118th CAB.  

“The new M1A1SA version of the Abrams tank has addressed a lot of the maintenance issues that we were having with our much older tanks,” says Thornton. “Our Soldiers can now spend less time fixing broken equipment and spend more time on training, and become more proficient, working to become stronger as a crew.”

As C Company completed gunnery tables and D Company, from Dillon, SC, began moving toward the ranges, the training for the 1/118th CAB was about to set new heights.

For the first time in history at Wright Army Airfield (WAAF), the 1/118th CAB demonstrated the joint airlift capabilities of the South Carolina Army National Guard and the U.S. Air Force’s 315th Airlift Wing. 

Soldiers and Airmen worked in unison over two days to load and secure four of the 1/118th CAB’s new M1A1SA Abrams main battle tanks onto four U.S. Air Force C-17 transport planes for transportation to McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, SC.

“This is a very unique opportunity for our Soldiers,” says Major David Fowler, operations officer for the 1/118th CAB. “Having our Soldiers receive the additional instruction of getting their tanks certified for airlift is very exciting.” 

“Training with new equipment in the South Carolina National Guard is always a priority,” says Major General Robert E. Livingston Jr., adjutant general of South Carolina. “The skills these Soldiers executed with gunnery and in joint operations with the Air Force demonstrates the multifaceted capabilities of our National Guard to be ready when needed.”