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Idaho Guard unit conducts first major Abrams drill since '04

By Capt. Robert Taylor | Idaho National Guard | April 16, 2018

BOISE, Idaho - The 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team's 2-116th Combined Arms Battalion (AR) completed gunnery training March 16 to 23 at the Orchard Combat Training Center. The training marked the first time the unit completed platoon-level training requirements for the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank since 2004.

The unit, headquartered in Caldwell with units in Boise, Emmett and Nampa, transitioned from an armor reconnaissance squadron to a combined arms battalion in 2016. The change brought the M1A2 back into the unit's equipment set and changed the mission of the unit's M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

"The M1A2 is an amazing beast," said Maj. Jason Gracida, the 2-116th CAB commander. "The ability to hit a target out to 3,000 meters makes you feel something."

Reorganization

Gracida was a platoon leader for A Company, 2-116th CAB the last time the unit qualified on the Abrams tank at Fort Bliss, Texas, prior to the 116th CBCT's 2004 deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III. The unit transitioned into an armed reconnaissance squadron in 2006, shortly after the unit returned home from Iraq in late 2005.

The majority of the 116th CBCT is located in Idaho with combined arms battalions in Montana and Oregon. After the 2006 reorganization, its tanks were located in the Montana Army National Guard's 1-163rd Combined Arms Battalion and the Oregon Army National Guard's 3-116th Combined Arms Battalion.

The 2016 reorganization added a third combined arms battalion to the 116th CBCT's fire power, which caused the 2-116th to transition from an armor reconnaissance squadron to a combined arms battalion. The Nevada Army National Guard's 1-221st Cavalry Squadron was also added to the brigade, which now provides the brigade's reconnaissance assets.

A combined arms battalion contains both M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The 1-221st also uses BFVs to conduct reconnaissance. In a combined arms battalion, BFVs are used by mechanized infantry Soldiers.

Tanks return

Soldiers were given the choice between reclassifying from a 19D cavalry scout to either a 19K M1 armor crewmember or to stay with the BFV as an 11B infantryman in the state's only infantry company, C Company, 2-116th CAB. Gracida said the unit was fortunate enough to have enough Soldiers volunteer to transition to both platforms.
For Spc. Ryan Carmen, the transition has been a welcomed change. Carmen converted from a scout to a tank crewmember and is now a loader.

"To go from carrying my weapon to having my weapon carry me is a fun experience," he said.

Most of the unit's Soldiers had to be retrained on their new weapon systems; however, the unit still had some former tankers in the unit. Gracida said that many of them, including himself, hoped that the unit would eventually return to tanks.

"There's nothing like the smell of the powder, the boom of the gun, and the sight of the trace going down range to knock the target down," said Sgt. 1st Class Cody Earl.

Earl enlisted into the Idaho Army National Guard in 1997 as a tanker and said he was ready to retire before the transition. He has been a driver, a loader and a tank commander in his career and is now a platoon sergeant in B Company, 2-116th.

"I enlisted for the tanks," he said. "There's a passion for tanks. All the training and tasks you do to prepare for that moment makes it worthwhile. All of the hours of training and hours of simulators make it all worth it once you feel that boom."

The major difference between the Abrams and Bradley Fighting Vehicle is that the Abrams' main gun is a 120mm cannon while the BFV fires a 25mm round. However, the firing commands are different in each vehicle and the Abrams requires an additional crewmember.

The unit completed Gunnery Table VI, individual crew qualifications, last year to prepare for Table XII, platoon-level qualification this year. Gunnery Table XII is the final requirement for units to conduct platoon live-fire exercises in future training missions. Two battalion teams will have the opportunity to conduct live-fire exercises this summer at the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center, located at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Gracida said the unit's next challenge will be to incorporate the mechanized infantry company with its two tank companies to fight as a battalion.