FORT BENNING, Ga. (Feb. 6, 2013) -- More than 100 future Armor crewman took a big step last week toward completing their training as they got behind the wheel and drove -- for the first time -- a Humvee and an M1A2 Abrams tank.

"This is what they came to do right here," said 1st Lt. Frank McClendon, executive officer for D Company, 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment. "Everybody doesn't get to drive a tank. You're talking about 68 to 70 tons of danger. It's a powerful weapon."

McClendon said it was the culmination of a lot of training.

Before the Soldiers ever get behind the wheel of a tank or Humvee, they learn about its capabilities. Later, they take it for a virtual test drive using a state-of-the-art simulator, featuring moving 3D screens and replicated interiors. And before taking off in the real vehicles, trainees visit the unit's motor pool, where they sit in the driver's seat, learn the different instruments, secure the driver's station and start the ignition.

"Some of them, it's going to be their first time driving any vehicle at all," said Staff Sgt. Abel Carrillo, senior instructor with A Company, 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, who handles the tank portion of the drivers training course.

"It's an experience," he said. "They learn how to maneuver and control the tank. On this course, there are a lot of uphills and downhills. It's narrow. It's kind of hard for them at first, but the tank instructors are pretty good and they guide them."

After driving during the day, the trainees learn to drive at night using a thermal viewer in the Advanced Drivers Training Course. They also take the tank off-road.

"They've gone through the driver simulator, so they already know how it works," Carrillo said. "This is a hands-on training for them to actually drive and experience the real thing. So before they get to their unit, they will have experienced how to drive a tank."

Pfc. Raymond Halualanihee, 1st Platoon, who had his first experience driving a tank Thursday, said he was "really nervous."

"You've got to give that tank respect -- honestly," he said. "If you don't respect that tank, you just press on that pedal and you don't know what's going on, you don't listen to the sergeant, you're going to hurt everybody in the turret. Everybody's going to get jostled inside."

After doing a few laps on the course, though, Halualanihee said he felt prepared -- "ready for whatever's coming for me."

When the trainees arrive at their units driving and loading tanks will be among their primary responsibilities. They also need to be familiar with Humvees, which senior drill sergeant Staff Sgt. Colminton Allen said was different from a regular passenger vehicle.

It's wider, has a broader turning radius, lacks power steering and includes more complex gears, he said.

The Soldiers rotated between driving the tanks and the Humvees. About 30 Soldiers in each platoon took the course each day, finishing Friday.

After taking his turn behind the wheel of a Humvee Thursday, Pvt. Sean Hussey was excited about his opportunity to drive.

"The brakes are touchy; you figure that out pretty quick," he said. "And it takes a little while for it to get up to speed. You have to take the corners kind of slow. Sharp turns aren't really that fun.

"I feel like I could do it even better if I got a second chance. I feel so happy I've gotten this far. It's amazing."

This week, D Company trainees are working on gunnery as they transition from black phase to gold phase, the final stage. They graduate from one station unit training Feb. 21.