By Staff Sgt. Ange Desinor (3rd ABCT, 4th ID)May 19, 2017
DRAGONKASERNEN, Denmark - As tank crews of Battle Company, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, wrapped up a week of competition at the Nordic Tank Challenge here, the unique training opportunities on a distinctly European tank resonated with them far more than the scoreboard.
"This has been the best experience of my career so far," said Spc. Jeff VanGilick, 19, a tank loader from Kansas City, Missouri. "The camaraderie among all the different teams has been invaluable."
With the exception of their more experienced platoon sergeant, the eight U.S. tankers competing in the tank challenge ranged in age from 19 to 23. For most, this is not only a first deployment as part of U.S. Army Europe's Atlantic Resolve mission, but it was their first chance to see the capabilities of armor counterparts from host nation Denmark, and competitors from Canada, Germany, Norway and Sweden.
Overall, a Danish tank crew won the tank challenge, held May 15-18, with teams from Norway coming in second and third. The U.S. crews placed seventh and 11th.
Events were conducted primarily on the Leopard 2 main battle tank platform used by many NATO allied and partnered nations. This gave the 3/4 ABCT crews a chance to compare its capabilities with the M1A2 Abrams tank they operate.
"We learned a lot from each other," said VanGilick of sharing experiences with Leopard crews. "It's a real eye opener to see how much we have in common. The basics in our tanks operate the same way it does with theirs."
The competition included events like shooting under physical duress, reacting to fire, rifle shooting from a moving tank, testing commanders and gunners on identifying threats and their distance, tank maneuvering, ammunition loading, a road wheel change, an obstacle course, navigation and first aid.
Competition finalists also competed in a live-fire exercise.
"The Nordic Tank Challenge is an awesome opportunity for the armored community," said Spc. Sean Lowe, 22, a tank gunner with Battle Co. "It's amazing because not a lot of people in this community have the chance to come here, meet with all these different countries, and be able to work with them on a day to day basis.
"Usually, we're training and we're always ready to go in terms of mission readiness. But given the opportunity to participate in competitions and join with other nations to do a lot of maneuvering is outstanding," said Lowe, of Branch, Arkansas.
VanGilick and his team focused more on teamwork vs. competition.
"It's not really about finishing in a certain place for us. It was about coming out here, meeting new people, learning from them and being grateful for the experience to represent America," said VanGilick. "We knew it would be challenging operating in a new environment and learning about a different platform. We came with an open mind and built bonds and friendship while here."
Spc. Raymond Marsh, 20, a Battle Co. tank loader, expressed his gratitude specifically for a Danish tank commander, Bryan Aabo, who spent time showing the U.S. crews how to work with a Leopard.
"The biggest challenges of the competition were the road wheel change and range determination because we don't do it as often," Marsh said. "He really helped us out a lot. He showed us ways to do things on a Leopard tank. He practiced with us at least 10 times before the competition. He also opened up a slot in the tank simulator after our training to help prepare us to compete."