TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- "Tower, I have one round of(high explosive anti-tank) on the way," the tank commander radioed. "Send it," the master gunner replied. Not two seconds later, an intense fireball and an earthshaking BOOM explodes from the M1A1 Abrams' main-gun barrel - annihilating the target down range.
Marines from A Company, 2nd Tank Battalion performed a bore-sight and screening with Sabot and HEAT (training) rounds at Range 500 July 29 before moving on to the Mobile Assault Courses in the next couple of weeks where they will employ offensive and defensive tactics, engage targets while on the move and do live-fire maneuvers as a company -- all of this, during the current Combined Arms Exercise 9-02.
"It's just like zeroing your weapon on the rifle range," Staff Sgt. Herbert E. Logan said. "You have to ensure main-gun accuracy," the Madison, Ala., master gunner explained.
He said the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based tankers perform this same screening exercise prior to combat in a real-world situation.
Also a master gunner, Sgt. Jason L. Villasana said it's his job to teach Marines how to gun tactically and proficiently.
The Sanibal, Texas, Marine said training in the Mojave Desert is great for him and his Marines. He said this preps his warriors for their upcoming deployment to the Mediterranean Sea. Alpha Company is scheduled to attach with Battalion Landing Team 1/8 with the 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit soon after completing CAX.
"If we deploy, it will be in an environment like this. Out here there's nothing in your way. You can see the entire company moving together; something you just can't do at Lejeune," he added.
Sgt. Charles G. Fisher said CAX's theory is a good scenario.
"The training is great," the Fayetteville, Pa., tank commander barked. "The only way it could be better is if people were returning fire."
The CAX veteran (this is his 13th Mojave trip) said the dusty, arid climate here gives his Marines the chance to see problems that may arise in a real situation.
"Back home, not running the tanks continuously, we just don't see them. What we learn here, we'll employ out there," he said.
First-time CAX participant, Lance Cpl. Anthony W. Harmon, said this is a great learning experience. The Oakland, Maine, tank driver said you employ a different type of maneuvering on this terrain, like cutting corners. This keeps a tanker from throwing a track.
Cpl. Michael S. Kendrick said the training here in this "desolate" tract is better than the training at Lejeune because it's a life-like scenario with more brutal elements.
"The environment here is definitely more challenging," said Cpl. Brain A. Williams, a company radio operator. "When it's 130 degrees directly under the sun, and 110 degrees in the shade with hot breezes, it's definitely going to take you out of your comfort zone."
After the dust settled and all rounds had been expended, Logan said he was proud of his Marines for their performance.
"Even though it's really motivating for these Marines and they get worked up with the rush of live-firing, they performed just like we expect," Logan said. "They used safe maneuvering, almost like it's muscle memory."
The 2nd Marine Division Leathernecks will complete CAX 9-02 sometime in mid-August.
Its sister company, Bravo, is scheduled to relieve them for CAX 10-02.