FORT BENNING, Ga. (May 10, 2012) -- Soldiers counted off pushups and sit-ups around sunrise Monday before wielding big hammers and turning screwdrivers in a showcase of tank mechanic skills as the inaugural Sullivan Cup cranked up here on Harmony Church.
Four-man crews from installations all over the world are putting their precision gunnery skills to the test this week at Fort Benning for a chance to be called the Army's best. Fifteen teams in M1A1 Abrams and M1A2 System Enhancement Package tanks began the four-day competition, which ends today following a live-fire session at the Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex.
The Army Physical Fitness Test greeted competitors at 5 a.m. Monday, but the opening chapter's marquee event was the Maintenance Challenge at Harmony Church's motor pool. With a clock ticking, crews in separate heats had to disassemble an eight-block section of track on their tanks marked as bad and replace it with a new piece as quickly as possible.
The 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, out of Fort Bliss, Texas, didn't just turn screws -- it turned heads. The team completed the task in just under a half-hour, more than 12 minutes ahead of the runner-up, and carried the overall lead into Monday afternoon's Gunnery Skills Competition.
"We came here to win, not just compete," said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Dilling, the tank commander. "It's a very tough job, especially in the weather down here. We knew we just had to get it done and suffer through it. It's definitely not an individual event. It takes really good teamwork, and all of us came together."
Simply moving the track is no easy chore, said Staff Sgt. Cory Nania of 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, a Sullivan Cup organizer. The section in play weighed between 600 and 700 pounds. The slowest times posted Monday were about 90 minutes, he said.
"It's extremely physically challenging, and it's hot out here," he said. "This is something they'd be expected to do in combat, maybe in the sand or mud. It can be frustrating. It doesn't always go smoothly. It's tiring, but it's part of the job. This is a crucial task. It's just as important as knowing how to fight."
Sgt. 1st Class Marc Westenbarger, tank commander for 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, another entry from Fort Bliss, said replacing a section of tank track rarely ever goes the same. His crew wound up second in the first heat.
"You can do it 10 times -- five times it'll go easy and the other five it won't," he said. "It was a lot of work for the four of us. But it's just a matter of maintaining your composure and driving on."
The crews were slated to mostly remain in simulators Tuesday at the Wood and Clarke simulation centers. Today's lineup features a "mystery event" and series of live-fire engagements at the DMPRC. Armor School officials were given clearance to conduct the Abrams tank night-fire portion until 4 a.m., today.
Westenbarger said consistency, maintaining focus and versatility are the keys for his crew moving forward. But they realize the battle will grow more intense, he said.
"We set the bar high," said Sgt. Zach Shaffer, gunner for the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, crew. "And we're going to keep it high all week."
For more information about the Sullivan Cup, visit www.benning.army.mil/armor/sullivan.