By Vince Little, The BayonetSeptember 28, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga., Sept. 28, 2011 -- The Warrior Training Center has gotten into the tank business.
The Army National Guard instruction hub at Fort Benning is wrapping up its first M1A2 Abrams Training Assessment Course, or ATAC, which is set up to assess National Guard and active-duty Soldiers and Marines in functional skills as potential candidates for the Armor School's Master Gunner Course, or MGC. The inaugural class, numbering six students, kicked off Sept. 17 and graduates Friday.
Capt. Curtis Goller, commander of the Warrior Training Center's, or WTC's, D Company, said the lesson plan covers nearly the full range of M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams Master Gunner Course subjects in a condensed, focused format. Subject material includes tank automotive maintenance and troubleshooting procedures, and advanced tank gunnery techniques and strategies.
"It's an academically intensive course with a lot of classroom time and plenty of practical exercises on the tank," Goller said. "They get a pretty good introduction to everything taught in the Master Gunner Course. Our course not only prepares them but assesses their learning capacity and drive to succeed at that course."
The Armor School's first Master Gunner Course begins Monday on Harmony Church. It's 11 weeks long, while the ATAC session at WTC lasts 14 days.
Goller said ATAC had been taught since September 2009 at Camp Shelby, Miss. The cadre team had been stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., but moved here last summer to prepare for the course's launch at the WTC.
He said 1st Sgt. David Biscaro is credited as being the architect of the ATAC program.
"Guys get three chances to pass (the MGC), and we looked at the main things that got them knocked out of school -- troubleshooting, gun tube technology, fighting vehicle capabilities, fire-control systems. We designed our course around those main problem areas," Biscaro said.
"This course is more of a shell shock for them. We force-feed 'em a whole lot of information in 14 days that they really need to focus on before they get to the Master Gunner Course."
The practical exercises within ATAC have yielded tangible results for both Army National Guard and active-duty Soldiers at that next level, Goller said. Historically, the prep course's graduation rate is between 65 and 70 percent. Those who do pass ATAC graduate 90 percent of the time at MGC.
Prior to ATAC's inception, the chance of an Army National Guard Soldier making it through the MGC was only 20 to 40 percent, Biscaro said.
Goller said ATAC prepares Soldiers and Marines to be a master gunner at the company level and up. They plan gunnery missions, train other troops in the unit and brief their leadership on recommended courses of action. In that position, they're also technical experts on the tank, particularly in its fire-control systems, he said.
"Ultimately, Soldiers need to be able to learn this information, retain it, stand up and effectively brief all this detail from memory," he said. "The exposure here allows them to become small-group leaders at the Master Gunner Course."
Only a few ATAC courses are offered annually -- right now, only three are planned at the WTC for fiscal year 2012, Goller said.
"It's an intense course," he said, "but we have a relatively low number of classes because it's so technically demanding and there are relatively few Abrams master gunners across the force."
The next ATAC won't start until January. Biscaro, however, won't be around for that one -- he's slated to retire in late December after 31 years in the Army.
"We've got a brand new building here, a real classroom," he said. "It's kind of neat to see a dream come true. But this class will be the first and last for me here."