Tank Gunnery at NTC, Trading Lasers for Bullets

By 1st Lt. Robert MacDonaldMay 18, 2015

Hawg Gunnery 1st Round
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Hawg Gunnery Master Gunner
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Hawg Gunnery Tower
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- A loud boom reverberates through the desert as Hawg Company, 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment sends its first main-gun round down range.

Soldiers of Hawg Company spent months getting ready for this moment. Any available minute not spent training visiting rotational units or laying out property for the change of command was spent preparing for gunnery. Each crews' driver, loader, gunner, and tank commander spent long hours in the Advanced Gunnery Training System, often after the work day, to qualify and pass a gate-to-live-fire exercise. Once a crew qualifies on the simulator, individual members take the Gunnery Skills Test. The GST is comprised of several tasks that test a tanker's knowledge of the weapon systems found on the M1 series tank as well as their ability to identify friendly and enemy vehicles and ammo types.

"As a tank company, it's imperative for us to conduct these gunneries to remain current with our vehicle platforms," says 1st Lt. Clifford Toro, Hawg Company executive officer.

Once a crew passes their gate-to-live-fire exercise and GST, they are ready to conduct an M1 tank gunnery.

The gunnery itself only lasted eight days. For most units, eight days is a limited amount of time to shoot a tank gunnery, but here, units must cater to the schedule of visiting rotational units. Therefore, eight days is an opportunity that can't be missed. "Here at NTC [National Training Center], 11th ACR serves a dual mission, train the force, and deploy and fight in our nation's wars. We need to make sure we don't let our knowledge of the M1 platform fall by the wayside as we spend month after month conducting rotations as the opposing force," says Toro.

That being said, a lot of credit can be given to Hawg Company's Master Gunner's, Staff Sgt. Michael Gonzales and Staff Sgt. David Edinger. Their diligent planning and preparation helped the range run smoothly and quickly while ensuring all critical skills, or tables, were completed to standard.

Each morning, as soon as the sun began creeping up over the hills, tanks were on line, boresighting and conducting test-fires. As crews progressed through each of the five tables, downtime was spent conducting maintenance, chair drills, and rehearsing fire commands.

Hawg Company conducted their table VI runs on Feb. 21. The combined score of the day and night run dictated whether a crew qualified, or failed. Each crew conducted last minute checks and chair drills as they prepared for their table VI run. As soon as the range went hot, every tank was in the firing line with the first tank already moving to the first battle position. Up in the tower Gonzales and Edinger monitored the fire net and jump net as each crew worked their way through table VI. Tank commanders barked fire commands as their crew responded with determined shouts. The tower was filled with radio chatter. By the end of table VI, Hawg Company qualified 10 crews on their first run with the top tank shooting 961 out of 1000.

The company commander's crew came in second oddly enough with a very respectable score of 922. This achievement is more impressive however considering he not only took command just one week prior, but this was his first experience on the M1 as he is an 11A from a Ranger Regiment. Needless to say, Capt. Michael Conforti made quite the first impression with Hawg Company.

Toro on the other hand is no stranger to the training area here, having completed 18 rotations since joining 2nd Squadron. However, this was his first time shooting an M1 Gunnery with a tank company as well. Toro's tank crew also qualified on their first run during the gunnery.

As tensions rise and conflicts continue in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, now more than ever it's important to ensure tankers are experts in their craft and masters of maneuver warfare.