By Kevin Larson
An M1A2 Abrams main battle tank hunkered down behind a fighting position on Fort Stewart’s Red Cloud Range Golf Thursday morning waiting for clearance from the control tower to fire.
The clearance comes, the tank’s main gun levels, and its tracks surge it forward. A red fireball explodes out of the muzzle, and the low-hanging clouds framing the range echo the blast.
Waiting in line outside of the range’s bull pen are several other tanks assigned to 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment and 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment for their opportunity to fire at the targets.
Both are part of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, which is currently occupying most of the training ranges with tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and artillery.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jose Padilla, 5-7 Cavalry senior enlisted leader, said part of taking care of Soldiers is making sure they know their jobs. Time on the ranges ensures that happens. It also ensures the unit is ready for its next training phase.
“The brigade is getting ready to do its rotation to the [National Training Center],” he said. “We have key leaders that are new to the brigade and the squadron and we’re making sure that everybody is qualified and trained and ready to execute our NTC rotation this summer.”
The training includes much more than gunnery, Padilla said.
“We train as we fight, from the fundamentals,” he said. “Bore sighting our vehicles, doing maintenance, make sure our vehicles work correctly, make sure the crew understand operate the vehicle and fire and execute our jobs.”
Staff Sgt. Henry Chubbrabb, tank mechanic with 2-7 Infantry, echoed the cavalry sergeant major about the importance of the training for both the tankers and the maintainers. With the heavy lift help of an M-88 recovery track, Chubbrabb’s maintenance crew was pulling the power pack on one of the unit’s tanks to correct an issue with its transmission. The hands-on, in-the-field wrench turning teaches Soldiers how to work in stressful conditions like gunnery.
“It teaches everybody what their job is, and the importance of doing things right and to the standard,” he said.
Early morning starts and late-night firing sessions add to the intensity of the training. Soldiers must be able to engage targets in all lighting and weather conditions. Sometimes, those environmental factors make Fort Stewart’s training noise heard further away than normal, said JP Wheatley, Fort Stewart Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security range control officer. Cold is just one factor; there are others, too.
“When it’s overcast, foggy, obviously it’s going to travel further,” Wheatley said.
Wheatley is responsible for coordinating all the training area on Fort Stewart used by Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to ensure they are prepared for combat. On a normal day, 14 to 28 tanks and six to nine artillery pieces can be firing on Fort Stewart.
“I am open 24-7,” Wheatley said. “We, as a program, try to facilitate the noise. We have noise consolations and buffer zones and sometimes environmentally the noise travels furthers than it should or would.”
Fort Stewart’s ranges are open 242 days for training. Over 11 million rounds were fired last year on the ranges.
The 1st ABCT will continue training until mid-February.
To report a noise complaint, call 912-435-9879