By VINCE LITTLEMay 16, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (May 16, 2012) -- A tank crew from Fort Bliss, Texas, is the first to drink from the Sullivan Cup.
With a call sign of "Heavy Metal," the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, team grabbed an early advantage on Day 1 with a dominant performance in the Maintenance Challenge and never let go, claiming victory Thursday at the inaugural battle on Harmony Church. The unit fended off the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st and 3rd Brigades, both of Fort Hood, Texas, who came in second and third, respectively.
"I'm ecstatic right now. I'm loving it," Sgt. Zach Shaffer, the gunner for 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said moments after an awards ceremony at the Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex. "We trained really hard and came out here to win."
Fifteen teams took part in the four-day competition to determine the Army's top tank crew. They included entries from Kuwait, the Washington National Guard and South Korea.
Fort Benning's 194th Armored Brigade finished fourth, while the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team and host 316th Cavalry Brigade wound up fifth and sixth overall.
Brig. Gen. Thomas James, the Armor School commandant and chief of Armor, said organizers had three objectives in the Sullivan Cup: reinforce the importance of precision gunnery, emphasize the value of simulations when conducting gunnery and maneuver training, and reignite the Armor force's customs and traditions.
"We had 15 of the best tank crews in the United States Army, and in my opinion, the entire world," he said. "It really is special. … Armor crewman -- 4 percent of the force, 40 percent of the maneuver combat power. Just think about it.
"We are unique because we're a small group. We know each other, we hang tough. We're ready to get back on tanks and fire big bullets."
The Fort Bliss crew established itself as a Cup threat May 7 during the Maintenance Challenge at Harmony Church's motor pool, where it took apart an eight-block section of tank track and replaced it with a new chunk in less than 30 minutes.
"(They) just crushed the record," James said. "None of that crew had to talk to each other. They just executed because they had done it before and knew what their responsibilities were. It was just a phenomenal effort."
Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Dilling, the tank commander for 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said his team needed to set a good pace and maintain its lead throughout the week.
"We knew it wasn't a sprint -- it was a marathon," he said. "We just had to take our time. … It's not a one-man job. We knew it was going to be hard. We just pushed each other till we got the job done.
"It's unbelievable and surreal. It's definitely something to win this Cup, but it was tough with all the different events. We had to prepare for anything and expect everything."
The week produced other memorable moments as well.
In the Army Physical Fitness Test that first morning, the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, won the Army Physical Fitness Test, led by Sgt. 1st Class Oscar Ayala, the crew's tank commander. In the last two years, he's had both hips replaced but still soared above 300 on the APFT.
Sgt. 1st Class John Swalley, the Sledgehammer Brigade's tank commander, recently had reconstructive surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. He limped to the finish line during the APFT run and then iced it up. A few hours later, he was dragging track across the motor pool in the Maintenance Challenge.
"You can all be proud," said Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commanding general. "Nothing says teamwork like a tank crew. Nothing. It was really inspirational to watch and see the efforts. … You will always remember participating in the very first Sullivan Cup. And it'll get better every year. I guarantee it."
Retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, the Cup's namesake, watched parts of the competition and attended Thursday's awards ceremony. He entered the service as an Armor officer in 1959 and retired in 1995 as the nation's 32nd Army chief of staff. Sullivan is now president of the Association of the United States Army.
"I'm really honored to have my name on this, but it isn't about me. It's about you; it's about the tank crews that are out there all over the world doing whatever they're being asked to do," he said. "You represent the power of the United States of America. … The United States Army is looking at the strength of its tank crews, along with the strength of the Infantry squad, along with the strength of the Army going forward. You are leading the way.
"I am enormously proud to be associated with each and every one of you. … Savor the moment. Moments like this are fleeting."
A look at the top five finishers (with point total) in the 2012 Sullivan Cup, which began May 7 and ends Thursday at Fort Benning:
Champion -- 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas: Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Dilling, Sgt. Zach Shaffer, Pfc. Mark Backer and Pfc. Kyle Braun (719.5)
Runner-up -- 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas: Sgt. 1st Class Oscar Ayala, Sgt. Owen Zechman, Spc. Sam Garcia and Spc. Jason Dickens (712.7)
3) 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood: Staff Sgt. Lou Rodriguez, Sgt. Roman Villareal, Pfc. Robert Reyna and Spc. Joseph Henry (703.5)
4) 194th Armored Brigade, Fort Benning: Sgt. 1st Class Jason Hansford, Staff Sgt. Edwin Rodriguez, Pfc. Jarod Birkett and Spc. Brian Blanchette (700.6)
5) 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Fort Benning: Sgt. 1st Class John Swalley, Sgt. William Freincle, Pfc. Dylan Robertson and Pfc. Milan Savich (690.9)