Painting a tank
Dave Stidham, a painter with the 407th Army Field Support Battalion's tactical automotive section, paints the main color on an M1A1 Abrams tank, part of a restoration effort at Fort Hood, Texas. When completed, the tank will be on display at the National Mounted Warrior Museum, which is currently under construction near the post's main gate. (Photo Credit: Brandy Cruz, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas - Bringing new life to old and dilapidated military vehicles is the name of the game for the 407th Army Field Support Battalion’s tactical automotive section here.

“I was that kid that would put model cars together and paint them. I get to do it for real now,” Gary Pasley said about restoring military vehicles for a living.

The senior painter is one of four restoration experts who are currently restoring military vehicles that will be displayed in the new National Mounted Warrior Museum, currently under construction and set for a soft opening near the post's main gate next year.

The TAS receives vehicles, strips them down to the metal, then proceeds to make them look brand new again by resurfacing them with fresh coats of paint.

“It’s old equipment, so sometimes we have to do some welding, some fabricating, trying to make them look as original as we can,” Rex Wheeler, supervisor for the TAS, explained. “The worst part is cleaning them up because they’re usually pretty rusted or the paint is chipping off. It’s a pretty daunting task.”

Wheeler said each vehicle takes approximately 300 man hours to complete. If interior restoration is also involved, the process can take even longer.

Each vehicle also comes with its share of historical research, which can be time-consuming itself. Wheeler explained that his crew tries to make each vehicle as authentic as possible, for the time period it was in operation.

“We try to make sure the details are right, especially for the museum pieces. Getting the period correct, especially with the lettering, the stenciling, the paint job and the colors is time consuming. We do a lot of research,” he shared. “The paint schemes are determined based on the period they served in. You might have four M1s, but they’ve served in different areas and times, so that depends on how they’re painted.”

Some vehicles are also unique because of what they have been through. Pasley shared the experience of recently restoring “the last vehicle out of Iraq,” a Caiman Plus mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP. The MRAP was assigned to Company C, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, when it left Iraq at the Khabari Crossing on Dec. 18, 2011. The unit had hand-painted “Last vehicle out of Iraq” on the side of the MRAP.

Sanding down a tank
Dave Stidham, a painter with the 407th Army Field Support Battalion's tactical automotive section, sands down an M1A1 Abrams tank to prepare it for painting at Fort Hood, Texas. Each vehicle the section receives for restoration takes approximately 300 man hours to complete. (Photo Credit: Brandy Cruz, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

After sanding and repainting the MRAP, the vehicle restoration crew took great measures to ensure they painted the lettering to look exactly the same as it did the day it left Iraq nearly 10 years ago. The vehicle is expected to be one of the vehicles showcased in the new museum, which will have its soft opening in 2022 and will be fully opened in 2023.

The TAS crew recently restored the M1E1 Abrams experimental tank in front of the Marvin Leath Visitors Center, as well as the M60A3 tank and the M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer in front of III Corps Headquarters.

Wheeler said the M60A3 was missing the M50 machine gun that mounts on the commander cupola, so they had to do some research and figure out an alternative.

“We found pictures of an original barrel online and our machinist, Ricky Poste, used an unserviceable barrel from a newer gun to fabricate the barrel for the original gun,” Wheeler explained. “With the barrel mounted on the tank it looks like the machine gun is present.”

The research, fabrication, painting, mounting and touch-ups for the machine gun took the crew approximately 55 hours to complete, not counting the hours it took to restore the rest of the M60A3.

“It’s about attention to detail,” Wheeler said. “I definitely have a good team. These guys do a fabulous job.”

After weeks of hard work restoring a vehicle, painter Dave Stidham said seeing it all come together is worth it, which Pasley agreed.

“When they (the requestor) walk in and see it for the first time and we see their excitement,” Pasley said, “it makes us feel good.”