MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.-- -- It’s no secret to the Marines in the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit that infantry squads are reliant upon their point man to make sure the road ahead of a patrol is from potential threats. The new point man for a patrol through Combat Town training area here Aug. 2 weighed in at 37 tons and provided unparalleled security. The Marines were practicing a technique called “tank integration,” which utilizes the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank in an urban patrol to beef up security for both the man and the machine.
The newly-assembled MEU consists of Marines formerly from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and the 2nd Tank Battalion, who are in the midst of working up and working together to prepare for deployment in the upcoming months.
Cpl. Ricky L. Cauthen, a 25 year-old squad leader with 1st platoon, 1st squad, explained the tank and the rifleman each have limitations, so working together to get the job done is an asset when it’s feasible.
“We have more security and firepower with the tank,” he said, “We may be a bigger target,” he said, noting it’s hard to miss a tank rolling through the streets with a squad in tow, “but nothing’s really going to hurt the tank. If they shoot at us, we’ll shoot back at them.”
Cpl. Derrick Farris sits in the gunner’s seat on the M-1 A1, and testified that the tank can have limited vision on its immediate flanks and upper vicinity when all four members of the crew are sealed tight inside.
“We give the tank security and eyes on the lower ground where they can’t see from up high. We also watch the rooftops,” said Cauthen.
With extra armor and firepower for the legs on the ground and extra eyes in the sky for the tank, this newfound alliance proved valuable to Pfc. Frank A. Schmidt, a Squad Automatic Weapons gunner.
“This is the first time we have done this kind of patrol,” he said, “we gained a lot of firepower in an urban environment. When we have to clear a building, the tank can blow a bigger hole so we don’t have to enter through a small door or window.”
“We also have much more protection behind the tank,” added Schmidt.
Riding the coattail of a tank gives the squad an instant extra 18 inches of armor between them and a frontal attack, but the benefits don’t stop there. The M-1 A1 brings multiple machine guns, including the .50 caliber, to the fight along with the 120mm Sabot tank round.
This monstrosity of a tank takes 10 hours of manpower maintenance for every hour of operation, and consumes 13 of its 500-plus gallons of gas upon ignition. It may seem like a high price to pay, but not when lives are on the line.
“It’s a lot of bang for your buck,” said LCpl. Robert E. Koehler of Anchorage, Alaska.
The presence of either riflemen or tanks individually can be intimidating to anyone on the wrong end of the muzzle. However, tanks and infantry together make an attack virtually unstoppable, said Koehler.
“You can basically use a tank to take the place of a couple fire teams of Marines. It’s a lot more menacing-looking, and just the appearance of the tank would make me think, ‘Uh, I’m not going to shoot at these guys’.”