Cav 'Demon' Tankers Mentor Iraqi Counterparts
BAGHDAD - The M1A1 Abrams tank is one of the newest additions to the Iraqi Army's arsenal. U.S. Army armor Soldiers and contracted civilians are assisting the 9th IA Division with getting their armored crewmen trained on the new equipment at Forward Operating Base Hammer.
Soldiers with Company D "Demons," 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, facilitated the training, according to 1st Lt. Michael Pesano, a platoon leader with Co. D. "We're here basically to help with mentoring the Iraqis, with maintenance and with understanding of how a tank platoon is supposed to run on a day-to-day basis," he said.
While it is the contracted civilians' job to teach the Iraqis how the Abrams works, it fell on Demon Company to teach them how an Abrams crew operates, Pesano explained. "We start with the Iraqi leadership: the lieutenants; the captains ... we try to get them to understand the American style of tanking, as opposed to the old Soviet style of tanking," the native of Springfield, Va. said. "It's not just one individual commanding everything, it's a team effort. We're trying to instill that in them. Everyone has to work together."
Basic operations in an Abrams tank contain a few major differences from the Soviet T-72 battle tank that the Iraqis are used to, according to Sgt. 1st Class John Hise, from Tishomingo, Okla., master gunner, 3rd Bn., 16th Cav. Regt. "In a T-72, you have a three-man crew: a driver, a gunner, and a tank commander," he said. "An Abrams has a four-man crew, the addition being a physical loader, while the T-72 has an automatic loader. It takes them a little while to get used to that."
In addition to a four-man crew, a major hurdle for Iraqi tankers is abandoning previous concepts of how a tank crew operates. "In the days of the old Iraqi Army, if you were a driver, you could spend 20 years as a driver and never do anything else," said Hise. "We're teaching them how to be a tank crewman: you know every job in the tank and you can do every job if need be."
At first, the Iraqis were resistant to these new ways of training and the Abrams itself, but they changed their way of thinking as the training progressed, Hise added. "They thought the T-72 was a manly tank and the Abrams, not so much," he quipped. "But once they got in it, started working with it and saw the accuracy of the Abrams, they loved it."
Maintenance of the tanks used for training is a task that 2-8 Cav. Soldiers take on every day. They are required to move the tanks to and from the training site, provide any repairs needed and assist the Iraqis with their understanding of the maintenance process, Pesano said. "The Iraqis do have a maintenance class and we're working with them to show them how to actually do these tasks but this course is so condensed that they don't have very much time to get into all the details and aspects of it," he explained. "That's why we're out here every day so they can ask questions and we can provide those answers."
So far, one class of Iraqi tankers has graduated the course, with another class underway. The first set of graduates are now going through the training again, this time learning to be instructors so they can eventually teach the class themselves without the aid of U.S. troops and contractors, Pesano said. "Since they're taking the M1A1 battle tank, it's important that they take a new doctrine with it," he said.
The M1A1 tank is a valuable asset in the Iraqi Army's battle against insurgency and in its security operations. With proper training and a little help from Demon 2-8, the IA will have troops that can effectively use the Abrams to the full extent of its capabilities, as well as instructors who can teach future Iraqi Army tankers.
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