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(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT BENNING, Ga., (Dec. 16 2015) -- Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course students participated in their first tank live fire on Dec. 7 at the Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex.

The students, consisting of mainly second lieutenants coming from Reserve Officers' Training Corps, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and Officer Candidate School, conducted the tank live fire during the second phase of the ABOLC course. The second phase, the Mounted Leader Phase, allows a student to apply his newly acquired skills through simulation and a gunnery skills test, to shooting live fire tanks.

ABOLC, a 95-day course, begins with the Foundations Phase. Each student is put into a crew, which they stay with the entire course. Students learn how to conduct troop leading procedures, operation orders and deliver operation order briefs in an effective manner. Students then move on to marksmanship, where they become proficient on the M4 rifle and the M9 service pistol, said Capt. Lazaro Oliva Jr., Operations officer, 2nd Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment (ABOLC).

Once they complete the marksmanship portion, next is the Mounted Leader Phase, where they prepare and conduct actual live fire training. Prior to the live fire, students practice in a motor pool setting, with NCOs as instructors. During simulation they rehearse crew drills and learn skills needed for tank live fire, Oliva said.

Oliva said there are three components a student must complete before participating in a tank live fire: Advanced Gunnery Training System, Gunnery Skills Test, and Gunnery Table 1.

"Then it is the beginning of the fun part," he said.

A tank's crew consists of four crewmen: two lieutenants, who act as a tank commander and a gunner; an NCO, who serves as the loader; and a Soldier from 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, who is the driver.

The 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, provides both equipment and Soldiers to conduct the tank live fires.

To prepare for the live fire, Soldiers load 16 120mm rounds in the tank and then conduct fire checks to make sure the vehicle is prepared to shoot. The crew then moves into position and fires, while asking for crew reports and updates.

Oliva said firing a tank for the first time is an experience a Soldier will never forget.

"The smell of the gun powder, it just surrounds you - you're immersed in it. And, the first time you smell it, it burns a little bit but you quickly come to appreciate that smell," he said. "You look forward to it."

An Abrams Master Gunner and a Vehicle Crew Evaluator assess the students' work during a tank live fire. They present the targets and control the range, while evaluating the lieutenants' fire commands and confirming there are no safety violations. Evaluators also measure the time it takes for a student to shoot, Oliva said.

"Accuracy is the most important thing," he said.

The preparation and actual live fire requires students to be smart, Oliva said. He said being smart is the most important step in the process. Students need to be smart in how they analyze terrain and the enemy, and to take advantage of the enemy's weakness.

Phase one focuses on making students smart. Phase two concentrates on being lethal and precise, he added.

Students said they felt completely prepared to fire live 120mm rounds before the training at the DMPRC. The tank live fire was a culmination of training that occurred approximately two weeks prior.

"Getting out here, firing out the real rounds, and seeing it hit the targets, makes all that training and all the time spent worthwhile," said 2nd Lt. Gabe Palma, student. "Makes me really happy to be out here and to have the branch that I chose."

2nd Lt. David Kotz, also a student, said he was ready for the live fire, and was eager to present his skills in gunnery.

"It was all those hours we had shooting in the simulators," he said. "I feel 100-percent ready, 100-percent prepared."

The Mounted Leader Phase prepares students to enter the third phase of the course, the Platoon Leader Phase. This is when students complete a majority of their field training.

After graduating from ABOLC, the next assignment gives the student a chance to be a platoon leader in various organizations including a Stryker Brigade Combat Team, an Infantry Brigade Combat Team or an Armored Brigade Combat Team.