Sand, Wind and Cannon;
A Gamer's View of the National Training Center
by Sgt. Mark Martin
July 14, 1999, 0330 hrs.
I stand in the Tank Commander's hatch of my M1A1 tank, fighting off a lethargic drowsiness. Well, damn, it is 0330 in the morning. The desert air is cool, a change from the 110 degree plus temperatures we have been experiencing for the last few days. The rest of my crew, a driver, gunner and loader are dozing, but are under orders not to fall asleep. The enemy is out there, and we are tasked to locate and destroy him.
Seven other tanks, four Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and a handful of other assorted vehicles are also alert. We are waiting for the order from the Company Commander to move to our battle posittions; some ten-feet deep holes about a kilometer and a half away.
The battle positions are dug in such a way as to allow us to observe a critical part of the battlefield and defend it from an OPFOR (Opposing Force) attack. My company has the responsibilty of defending the Whale, a huge, black, lava rock-covered hill that stretches almost three miles.
At 0530 we get the order to move from our hide site, a location on the battlefield that is supposed to prevent enemy recon teams from spotting us, to our battle positions. We have rehearsed this move yesterday, so even in the dim morning light I know where to go. Suddenly, from the hill to our right there are several puffs of smoke.
Three tanks from the right-most platoon are immediately hit by infantry firing AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missiles. I grab the TC's over-ride handle and slew the turret to the right, barking at my gunner to scan for enemy dismounts. The thermal sight might be able to pick up hot spots on the hillside, but it is too late; the OPFOR has drawn first blood and gotten away clean. The crews of the destroyed tanks immediately begin performing first aid and vehicle recovery.
I move to my battle position and the tank coasts down into the hole. Now the only visible part of my tank is the antenna, the M2HB Machine gun, and my head and torso. I scan our area of responsibility with binoculars, my gunner doing the same with his sights. It is 0545.
We occasionally get reports from scout vehicles, armored Hummvee's, hidden from one to five klicks to our front. Their job is not to engage the enemy, but to stay out of site and report on his actions. Around 0630, I receive a report from the company commander saying that the scouts have spotted a large dust cloud to the northeast, in the direction of the John Wayne Foothills. Apparently the enemy is on the move.
At around 0730 my gunner reports that he has spotted a vehicle beyond the Whale gap; range approximately 6000 meters. As this is well outside our effective range, we do not open fire but report the contact to our platoon leader. He immediately marks the location on his map, and likewise reports the sighting to our company commander. In this way, all the vehicles and soldiers in the company know of the location of the contact. The vehicle is too far away to identify as a friend or enemy.
At 0745 more vehicles move into visual range. They seem to be taking their time. They are definitely not acting like friendly vehicles; they are probably enemy scouts, tasked to locate our positions. Sure enough, five minutes later, enemy artillery begins to fall about 300 meters to our front. My crew immediately don our gas masks. We are already wearing our NBC (Nuclear - Biological - Chemical) Suits and boots.
Equipment from Hell
These items are a special kind of hell; hot and very encumbering. As I am the tank in the platoon whose responsibility it is to determine wether chemical weapons are being used, I break open a chemical detection kit that samples the air. Even if chemical weapons are used, my tank crew is relatively safe; the M1A1 is equipped with an overpressure system that prevents outside air from entering the interior of the vehicle. Unfortunately, I have to open my hatch to test the air. It sucks to be the NBC tank.
Fortunately the test is negative. I report the results to my platoon leader, and after a few more minutes we receive the "ALL CLEAR" , allowing us to unmask. However, while we have been protecting ourselves from the unseen hazards of chemical agents, the enemy has been busy.
M1A1 loading on C17
We get a call that an enemy armored force is within three clicks of our position. Oh boy, that's pretty close in the desert. My crew is alert and ready. Five minutes later, we get a frantic report that there are enemy helicopters behind us, to the southeast. I spin around in my hatch and scan the sky for aircraft. Sure enough, two Hind-D's are skirting the Whale and approaching our position.
I hear the whine and grind of a tank to my right pull out of its fighting position; it's the company Executive Officer's tank. His turret spins to his right rear. A deafening boom, and one of the helicopters goes down in flames, the other one turns and drops to the desert floor, trying to escape destruction. It retreats safely.
Suddenly, I hear my platoon leader give a platoon fire command over the net. "Red, this is Red One, Tanks, two rounds Sabot . . . Top Hat, Top Hat. . . . . . . . .Fire!" At the hearing of "Top Hat" my driver moves forward to the firing step of the fighting position.
The turret slews to the right, my gunner scanning the gap for targets. He identifies a group of BMP's and T-80's moving over the northeast side of the whale. He picks out a T-80, and thumbs the laser range finder button, Range 1700 meters. The loader already has a sabot round in the breech. He flips the arming lever upwards, and yells "UP!" The gun is ready to fire. At the word "Fire" I repeat the command to my gunner, and he squeezes the trigger.
A huge explosion spouts from the muzzle of our gun, and I see our round streak away towards the enemy tank. The T-80 is struck at the junction of the turret and the hull. The tank shudders to a stop. An instant later, we are rewarded with a huge explosion as the internally stowed ammunition in the enemy vehicle cooks off, and the twenty-two ton turret flies off the hull and lands ten meters away.
My loader is already in action. His knee presses on the ammo door switch, and the thick aluminum door rolls open to reveal several 120mm rounds in their storage tubes. He grabs a round and spins it to place it in the smoking breech. Behind him, the ammo door slides closed . . .
WHAM! The entire tank shakes from a 125mm sabot round, fired by another T-80. The round penetrates the rear of the turret, and seconds later all of the ammunition in our semi-ready rack explodes with a violent crash. I am stunned by the noise, as the semi-ready racks "blow-out panels" are right behind my hatch.
My nose is bleeding, and my gunner and loader are both dazed as well. The Halon fire extinguishers kick in, and fill the turret with the fire-retardant chemical. I attempt to take stock of the situation; no turret power, the engine has died, and there is a merry column of smoke and flame erupting from a foot behind me. The heat is almost unbearable.
I look around the battlefield; our tank is not the only one to suffer the same fate. I see several burning vehicles. All this has taken the space of thirty seconds. I see dozens and dozens of enemy vehicles moving at high speed behind our positions, firing machine guns and tank cannon as they move. It doesn't take Patton to see that we are screwed . . . .
Go to Part II
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