the summer of 1965, our Regiment received an alert for
deployment. Members of M Company of the 11th ACR were
instructed to initiate a program that would prepare
the unit in tactical combat training. Lieutenant John
Casterman and I, Rufus Sanders, were selected to teach
skills the armored units would need in jungle warfare.
I had accrued years of experience in track vehicle instruction
while stationed with the 7th Army Training Center in
Vilseck, Germany. Lieutenant Casterman had trained as
a safety officer and had extensive knowledge of armor
training. Our job was to prepare the Regiment's constituents
for combat. What they learned here at Fort Meade, they
would use to defend their lives in Southeast Asia.
soldiers were already immersed in training--scattered
throughout the United States at various military outposts.
We awaited their arrival at Fort Meade. All of our preparation
turned into action in January of 1966. The Regiment
was assembled and we spent hours conveying the dire
danger of the vehicles. The M113 APC and the M48 had
the potential to kill. Before letting the troops drive
we had to make sure they knew all of the safety procedures.
Assistant instructors stressed to the students what
we expected of them: respect these vehicles at all phases
of operation in order to ensure everyone's well being.
anxiety of the troops directly correlated with the stressful
demands of warfare training. Both instructors and drivers
were frustrated, but as with most life skills-practice
progressed to perfection. It took a few days of trial
and error to turn nervous anxiety into keen confidence.
We watched our students' progression with proud sighs
of relief. Our students no longer needed our instruction.
I prepared for M Company's move to Camp Pickett, Virginia.
again, newly assigned troops brought with them new bouts
of trepidation. They had arrived at Camp Pickett knowing
that their Sergeant expected nothing less than their
best. Troops had to master the M48 Tanks, but first
they had to conquer their fears. Instructors had the
difficult task of convincing these young men to believe
in themselves but never letting them forget the serious
consequences of their actions. Encouragement sometimes
came in the deceptive form of threats and yells. The
duress of the situation put both students and instructors
through a gamut of emotions; but it was better to shed
tears now than incur sanguine mistakes later. The turmoil
paid off and the novice drivers began to look like a
crew of trained professionals. Like well-seasoned soldiers
they arrived in place, on time, and with their crew
intact. Having spent years of training on tanks it still
amazes me that we controlled the tanks and not vice
versa. There were moments when the vehicles seemed to
have minds of their own.
individual crew training added many years to those who
took part in the rigorous program. I believe it was
the combined prayers of the hardcore leaders and the
crews' patience that prevented careless injuries. Machineguns
had to be disassembled with great care and precision-which
is most likely the reason why my squadron commander
outlawed swagger sticks.
troops still had so much to learn. Our next step took
us to the motor pool for night training. Each man was
blindfolded and his mission was to retrieve a specified
weapon from a vehicle and then return it to its proper
place without relying on his sense of sight. This task
was performed repeatedly until the Noncommissioned Officer
(NCO) in charge was certain that each man had accomplished
the procedure with precision.
assigned Tank Commanders (TC) did not arrive in training
until early July, so the men continued to practice on
their own. While the troops learned how to safely use
the radios and turret controls, the TC's had to accept
the fact that these men were as proficient, if not better,
in the jobs the TC's had been trained for. Some of the
new TC's had come directly from M60 tanks with 105 mm
guns, and M85 CAL-50 mgs. The commanders' backgrounds
spurned a questionable concern in their ability to teach
the head spacing, timing, and special loading techniques
needed for the M48's 90mm and M2 Cal-50 mgs.
problems were multiplied when the top shirt did not
understand why the NCO's were not familiar with materials
that were part of the ground troops' knowledge. The
Platoon Sergeants, including myself, convinced the newly
assigned Platoon Leaders that leadership is an honor
that is learned in the field not in a textbook setting.
The Leaders agreed with us and the crews were allowed
to work out their problems and strategies outside of
the classroom. They were learning life.
addition to the special warfare training (jungle busting),
the entire crew would be involved in a new type of training
that allowed the bending of tank fenders: field tactical
training; busting tracks; changing road wheels; extracting
vehicles from mud holes; replacing thrown tracks while
still engaged in combat; using logs or tanker bars or
any readily available object to upright overturned vehicles.
The vehicles were often damaged to the dismay of the
training staff and to the officer who had signed the
vehicles out from Fort Knox. It was the regimental commander
who told them to put their "statement of charges" booklets
away and reminded the grimacing nay Sayers that these
men were training for combat. The troops deserved these
exercises to be as realistic as possible so they would
be able to handle even the worst-case scenario. Even
if their officer or NCO were killed, the men's trained
experiences would help them tackle any and all surprises.
Attitudes were shifting to wartime mode.
crews were moved to A.P. Hill, Virginia, where their
training skills would be honed. Drivers learned to properly
position the tank hull in a deflate position and how
to maximize the use of available camouflage. They learned
how to drive without losing their heads when the turret
was traversed without prior notice. This was all accomplished
without the aid of the TC's. Lessons were learned through
crewmembers. They commanded attention to details by
threatening to hit each other's helmet-clad heads with
of our training was put to the test when we arrived
in Vietnam. There were no more practice combat missions.
The enemy was shooting real bullets at us. We discovered,
however, that our trained track drivers were confident
almost to a fault. These guys started taking bets on
how close they could come to an object (motor shooter,
log truck, etc.) without touching it with an end connector,
and taking antes on who could get his head down the
fastest when the command driver stop was given. They
even attempted to control the convoy speed and held
contests to see who could bust the longest jungle trail.
With all of the distracting conditions (heat, long hours,
ambush, etc.) there is no doubt in my mind that when
the tank commander gave the "driver move out" order,
not a single driver ever hesitated long enough to say,
"I'm scared". I often wondered, however, and I say this
with a sly smile, why those drivers always came out
of the crises all wet.
one of those trainees who went through all the hell
those instructors gave us, I would like to thank Platoon
Sergeants Harper, Sanders and Mitchell for giving me
the skills to make it home from Vietnam!"