By Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Tarr, 1st ABCT, 1st IDMay 14, 2018
FORT BENNING, Ga. (May 14, 2018) -- After 13 days of physical and technical competition, the armor tank crew from Company C, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, took second place in the Army's bi-annual Sullivan Cup precision gunnery competition at Fort Benning, Georgia, May 4.
The Sullivan Cup tested crews on their core competency knowledge throughout multiple events, that fell into four categories: maintenance, virtual simulations, live-fire gunnery and physical fitness.
The "Bandido" tanker crew competed against 14 teams from across the Army, Marine Corps, Australian School of Armour and the Kuwait Land Forces. Sgt. 1st Class Gilbert Gonzales, Sgt. Thomas McCann, Spc. Ryan McCormack and Pfc. Tim Johnson used the opportunity to showcase their proficiency as tankers.
Gonzales, tank commander and platoon sergeant assigned to Co. C, 1st Bn., 16th Inf. Regt., and a Whittier, California, native, has been in the Army for 15 years. He said it has been his goal to compete in the Sullivan Cup since he was a young sergeant.
"The Sullivan Cup is a competition, but it is also designed to show the armor school the lethality of the force and where they can improve training for incoming Soldiers," he said. "This is the ultimate experience to be able to show off your skills in front of the rest of the force."
Staff Sgt. William Vernon, an Abrams master gunner and Southport, North Carolina, native assigned to 1st Bn., 16th Inf. Regt., coached the tank crew for a month prior to the competition. According to Vernon, the crews were unaware of which tasks they would have to complete during the competition, but he based their training off of previous years' events.
"We ran through an abbreviated 'Sabot Academy,' which is where I taught them about the direct fire engagement process, land navigation, close combat tactical trainer, tanker physical fitness test and multiple scenarios from previous Sullivan Cups that they could possibly face," he said.
Gonzales said he believes his crew's success was due to his battalion consistently building readiness by regularly executing situational training exercises.
"We didn't practice additional gunnery tactics prior to the event," Gonzales said. "We went out there and knew exactly what we needed to do to perform well on the lanes."
Even after years of tank experience, Gonzales learned new tactics and plans on incorporating them during training.
"Being a platoon sergeant, this has allowed me to see where my company stands as a whole," he said. "I am going to use what I have learned here to take back and teach my guys during sergeant's time training to become more proficient on the basics."
The team may not have brought home the trophy, but the experiences gained will resonate throughout their future careers as tankers.
"This has been an incredible experience to say the least," Gonzales said. "Considering most of my teams are averaging about 20 months in the Army, I'm extremely proud that my guys performed so well and were able to take home second place."