Monday, February 6, 2012

Treat 'Em Rough

I've now had two journeys in a row that have commenced with worrying news at the airport check in desk. The Scotland trip was almost cut from 48 hours to 24, and the trip to Ft. Benning began with yours truly on standby.

A wonderful, welcome sight
upon arriving at Ft. Benning
Thankfully, the problems on both trips were resolved; we arrived in Atlanta on time,and were met by our friend, Ben Freakley. Ben has been the catalyst behind this trip, and has overwhelmed me with the effort he has put in to making this possible. He noticed the "big guns" item on my list, and ran with it.

Our breakfast setting
We arrived at Ft. Benning and were met by Specialist Meares at our accommodation, The Marshall House. SPC Meares gave us a gracious, official welcome to Ft. Benning, gave us a tour of the house, and then left us to crash in to bed; the long journey had taken its toll.

SPC Meares returned to the house early on Thursday morning, and was busy making our breakfast by the time Amanda and I made it downstairs. Ben joined Amanda and I to enjoy stuffed french toast before we all headed out for the day.

SFC Helland, me, Ben, and CSM
Mitchell pose outside Patton Hall
SSG Quinten Helland, a Master Gunner, was also waiting downstairs.  SSG  Helland was kind enough to drive the three of us around Ft. Benning for the day. I'm told he also played a key role in arranging our schedule for the day.

We departed The Marshall house for the Command Group Headquarters of the 316th Cavalry Brigade. We were visiting Ft. Benning as guests of Colonel Dougherty and the 3-sixteen. COL Dougherty had been called in to a meeting, but Command Sergeant Major Mitchell was there to greet us at the beginning of what would be a great day...

Welcomed to the range
...we all headed over to Patton Hall. Patton hall receives each new officer and takes them through the rigors of Armor School. The hall was very impressive, and was far more reminiscent of a new, state-of-the-art University building, than anything I had imagined.

We left Patton Hall and headed off for the range. SGT Helland drove us all out to the range where we were met by a large group of personnel, and two M1A2 SEP Abrams battle tanks.

I've seen images of Abrams tanks, and even saw a few dozen parked in storage across from the Brigade HQ, but nothing prepared me for the sight and sound of a 70 ton monster pointing down-range.

Me, SFC Wainwright,
Amanda, and ben
We spent the first half of our visit to the range being given a guided tour of the M1A2 by SFC Wainwright. The best way to describe SFC Wainwright is to point out the number of times he said he had the best job in the world; talking with such intensity about every single aspect of the tank that you wondered if he might be able to talk for hours about just the rubber used on the tank's tread. Or the gyro-scopes uses within the weapons systems. Or the origins of the name of a tank hull. We heard many of his colleagues describe him as simply the most knowledgeable soldier they knew of when it came to the M1A2. Even better was the fact that his passion was contagious; i think all three of us left the tank just giddy about all the things it could do.

Thankfully, we didn't have to wait long to witness the M1A2's most impressive capability.The second tank was in the middle of a training exercise, and we got to witness the 120mm smoothbore main gun firing. The best way I can describe it is to say that you feel your witnessing the birth of lightning; I've never witnessed anything as powerful or loud.You feel the blast reverberating through your feet, and the boom shakes your innards.

The most destructive husband and
wife Ft. Benning has ever seen!
SGT Wainwright completed our tour, and we returned to a tent on the back of the range to change in to some Nomex. While the tank barrel has capabilities to draw gasses out, minor malfunctions could see some of those gasses find their way in to the turret; Nomex protective clothing is worn in case any sparks or flashes also make their way in to the turret.

We made our way over to the second tank. Amanda and I would join SGT Wainwright to help him fire a few rounds, before Ben would trade places with Amanda for the last few rounds.

We had seen the inside of the other tank with SGT Wainwright, but seeing helmets waiting for us in the gunner's seat and loader's seat immediately lifted my level of excitement -- if that were possible!

I made my way down in to the gunner's seat and Amanda climbed down to the loader's seat. SGT Wainwright was in the tank commander's chair, and here's what followed...

The violence inside the tank isn't much compared to the blast outside (Marines in older versions).

We changed out of our Nomex clothing, the sound of the tank still ringing in our ears, and gave heartfelt thanks to everyone for having us on the range and making my dream come true.

Not bad to do all that before lunch!

Mementos from COL Dougherty
We made our way back to 316th HQ and walked over for lunch with a collection of soldiers that had played a role in making the visit possible. We were also joined by Colonel and Mrs. Dougherty.

At the conclusion of lunch, COL and Mrs. Dougherty presented Amanda, Ben, and I with certificate granting us Honarary status as members of the 316th Cavalry Brigade. We also received a coin from COL Dougherty -- a "coin" being a token given by a commanding officer to a subordinate in reward of excellence.

Still a little speechless fron COL Dougherty's kindness, we returned to our transport and made our way to a second range to witness a "Hot-Ex."

Ft. Benning continued to roll out the red carpet for us; we had front row seats for the firepower demonstration.

Bradley fighti
Members of COL Rauhut's 197th Infantry Brigade demonstrated close combat and small arms. COL Rauhut introduced the soldiers that would lead the demonstration before stepping aside. Soldiers gave briefs on the particular unit they were demonstrating, from the M1A2 and Stryker, to the Bradley and the infantry soldier.

After the briefings, the presentation area was cleared in preparation for live fire.

What followed was a deafening barrage of fire; mortars, cannons, .50cals, and various small arms. It was amazing and awe-inspiring...

COL Rauhut continued to treat us like VIPs; we were invited in to one of the Bradley Fighting Vehicles and given the opportunity to see its power up close.

After lighting up targets on the range in the Bradley, we then stepped down to a firing line to try some of the "small" arms on display. I say, "small," but the first rifle I fired was the Barrett  99 - a rifle that shoots .50cal ammunition.

Follow me
Nearly dizzy from the noise on the range, we bid farewell to CSM Mitchell and headed for the National Infantry Museum. As if we didn't already feel honored enough, folks at the NIM held the building open after hours just so we could have a personal tour of the facility.

In keeping with previous events that day, our experience at the NIM was simply wonderful. The entire museum is a great testament to the Infantry. I strongly recommend you visit.

At the conclusion of our visit to the NIM, we returned to the Marshall House and grabbed some much-needed rest.

We finished our whirlwind visit to Ft. Benning by taking a quick jaunt in to Columbus and eating at The Black Cow. It was the perfect end to the perfect day.

I can't thank people enough for making our visit possible, and for making it such a memorable day.

Another dream come true


  1. Good summary! But you did leave out that Sgt Major said we were very likely the first married couple to load and fire an M1A2! It was all wicked cool!

  2. So glad you both had a great time. Pictures and video are awesome. Next on the list?