JUNE 10, 2015, MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – The turret of the tank traversed along the horizon, scanning the engagement area for potential threats, looking to destroy them faster than the previous crew. A voice suddenly buzzed in over the radio informing them of an approaching enemy tank. The tank commander tersely instructs the loader and the gunner which ammunition to prepare. Their communication is brief but effective, each knowing the others thoughts and intentions. They are one cohesive team, the result of a significant amount of time spent training together. Preparations made, the tank commander booms out the fire command. The cannon goes off with an earsplitting blast and fire erupts around the barrel. The steel target tank didn’t stand a chance.
The best tank gunner crews from 1st Tank Battalion., 2nd Tank Bn. and 4th Tank Bn. competed for top honors and the McCard trophy during the 13th annual Tiger Competition at shooting range-10 aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, June 5, 2015, bringing the entire tank community, including tank battalion veterans, together for an entertaining display of the force and powerful capabilities.
“We have a total of 202 tank crews in the entire Marine Corps,” said Lt. Col. Robert J. Bodisch, the commanding officer of 2nd Tank Bn. “Today, what we have are the absolute top three best crews. This demanding competition highlights excellence in the critical combat skills of tank gunnery and demonstrates the aggressiveness, dedication and utmost professionalism of the Marine tanker.”
The crews, operating the M1A1 Main Battle Tank, armed with a M256 120mm cannon, and two machine guns, each go through a series of seven engagements downrange, explained Gunnery Sgt. Dennis Downes, the battalion master gunner for 2nd Tank Bn. The engagements are offensive and defensive, some stationary and some conducted on the move. The targets included pop-up and moving targets, simulating enemy tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy weapons and troops.
“This competition puts them through a course of fire which tests the full capabilities of the tank and the crew,” said Downes.
Not only is the crew tested on their ability to hit targets quickly, they are also assessed on their communication skills and ability to make timely decisions as a team. The competition aims to recreate a true combat situation to see each crew tried to the height of their abilities.
“It’s very realistic,” said Bodisch. “What you’ll see is the tank crew go down range and they will get a series of threat briefings and depending on that threat scenario, the tank crews have to understand what ammunition they are going to select. They are going to be graded on their fire commands, every word they say over that radio, and that really speaks to the efficiency of that crew and how they execute shooting the targets.”
A major factor of what makes a team successful is their ability to understand one another and work together as a strong team, explained Lance Cpl. Ryan Foster, the loader representing 2nd Tank Bn. in the competition. The ability of the team to communicate can make or break them in this competition.
“It’s vital for a tank crew to get along and know how one another acts,” said Foster.” I think our chemistry works really well.”
Foster also spoke about the incredible support his crew received from the other tankers in the battalion. Also present encouraging the crews were family members and veterans from the Marine Corps Tankers Association. The veterans proudly boasted about their days as tankers and good-naturedly rooted for the crew from their former battalions.
Another rewarding aspect of the TIGERCOMP was the opportunity for the Marines to meet and interact with tankers from all across the Corps. It is the only competition of its kind that allows all of the units to compete head-to-head without regard to active or reserve status, said Bodisch.
“I believe that this competition has brought the full tank community together as a team because we have Marines from 1st Tank Bn. that are getting to know the Marines from 2nd Tank Battalion along with Marines from 4th Tank Bn. that we don’t get to work with all the time. It’s good for the crews to get together and make contacts and see what the other crews are doing,” said Downes.
In the end, however, there could only be one winner.
The crews gathered in formation in sight of the coveted McCard trophy. The trophy is named after Gunnery Sgt. Robert H. McCard who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the Battle for Saipan on June 16, 1944. The winning crew would hold this trophy, along with the associated bragging rights, until next year’s competition.
The suspense rose as 1st Tank Bn. was proclaimed the 3rd place winner. The trophy gleamed tauntingly in the sunlight.
“Finishing in second place,” the announcer reads. “is the crew from 4th Tank Bn.”
Left standing is the 13th annual TIGERCOMP champion crew representing 2nd Tank Bn. Tank Commander Staff Sgt. Joseph Lowery, Gunner Cpl. Charles Smith III, Loader Lance Cpl. Ryan Foster and Driver Lance Cpl. Keondre Mitchell step forward to receive medals, Navy, Marine Corps Achievement Medals and the McCard trophy.
“TIGERCOMP recognizes and rewards excellence in small unit teamwork, leadership and tank gunnery,” said Bodisch. “Consistent with our heritage as riflemen, it is the ability to put steel on targets that is the foundation of combat readiness for Marine tank units.”