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by: Rufus H. Sanders


In 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Once 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

These 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.

In 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.


The 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 hammers.

All 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.

Rufus Sanders
(White-Light 24)


"As 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!"

W. J. Madej
Driver M-11


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