By Vince LittleMay 2, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (May 2) -- Fort Benning is bracing for a tank invasion next week as the Armor School stages its first-ever Sullivan Cup.
Teams of four Soldiers each are en route from installations around the globe to lock up in the four-day competition, a test of their precision gunnery skills that'll determine the Army's top tank crew. It's scheduled to begin Monday and continue through May 10 at various venues on Harmony Church.
"These are core functions and an essential part of their jobs, and that's the way the Sullivan Cup is set up," said Lt. Col. Matt Boal, executive officer of the Armor School's management staff. "We're not throwing tomahawks. These are the requirements that real crews have to be qualified on out in the field. And it's part of the overall theme of this competition."
The 15-team field includes representatives from Fort Benning's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 194th Armored Brigade and 316th Cavalry Brigade, organizers said.
The 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division -- among the last units to pull out of Iraq in December -- is sending an entry from Kuwait. The Washington National Guard will join the battle, while another crew is coming from the 2nd Infantry Division's 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team in South Korea.
"This will be a very good representation of a standard tank crew in the Army. These are your no-joke, go-to-war tank crews," said Capt. Anthony Leon, assistant operations officer of 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, the Sullivan Cup's host unit. "These are tank crews consisting of privates to sergeants first class that earned the right to be here by proving they are their respective unit's best overall tank crews. It's all about their job skills as a crew, not as individuals.
"What makes the M1 Abrams the world's most lethal combat vehicle? It's the crew in the tank."
He said crews will use tanks organic to their units, meaning three different types will be fired during the competition: the M1A1 Abrams, M1A2 System Enhancement Package and M1A2 SEP with Common Remote Operated Weapons System, or CROWS.
The opening day kicks off at 5 a.m. with an Army Physical Fitness Test before the crews dig into their large toolboxes for the Maintenance Challenge at Harmony Church's motor pool. They must replace entire sections of tank track, a task that'll take each team about an hour to complete.
The Gunnery Skills Competition highlights Monday afternoon. The tank commander, gunner, loader and driver will have a different chore requiring them to do it quickly and in sequence as two graders evaluate each station.
"Everything on Day 1 is being done in a race format," Leon said, "so there'll be some gamesmanship going on. It'll be pretty intense with all the eyeballs that'll be on them. They'll be under stress and pressure to get it done right."
Day 2 on Tuesday will mostly have the crews in simulators at the Wood and Clarke simulation centers.
But the Sullivan Cup's "real meat" starts Wednesday, Leon said. Up first is a small-arms live fire event at the Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex, where Soldiers will hop off the tanks to engage targets with M4 rifles and 9 mm pistols.
"The old Armor saying used to be 'death before dismount,' but the tank community has changed after 10 years of war," he said.
That'll be followed by a "mystery event" at the DMPRC, Leon said, and night fire begins on the same range as soon as the sun drops. With visual references gone at that point, the teams will be judged heavily on commands given inside the tank.
He said organizers have clearance to shoot until 4 a.m. Thursday on a one-time basis.
The Armor School plans to make the Sullivan Cup an annual event. It's named for retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, the nation's 32nd Army chief of staff, who entered the service as an Armor officer in 1959 and retired in 1995. He's now president of the Association of the United States Army.
Sullivan will address all the tank crews Tuesday morning at Patton Hall. He's set to observe portions of the competition and attend the awards ceremony May 10 at the DMPRC. Leon said other retired generals, including a few former Armor School commandants, also will be on hand.
Shuttles will carry spectators to competition sites from 1-16 Cav. headquarters at Schlanser Hall, Building 5143. On Wednesday and May 10, the public may view static exhibits of historic tanks from the MCoE Museum Division's Armor collection at the DMPRC.
For more information about the Sullivan Cup, visit www.benning.army.mil/armor/sullivan.