COMBAT OUTPOST OUELLETTE, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
The brown beads of sweat stream down their faces as they work on the largest mobile ground weapon in the Marine Corps. These Marines have no problem living up to Company D’s alias: “Dirty Delta.”
The tankers with 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), crank wrenches and get dirty to maintain their M-1A1 “Abrams” Main Battle Tank.
The only other thing cranking besides the wrenches are the tunes playing on the MP3 while they work on the tanks. It is no easy task to maintain one of the most sophisticated weapons the military has to offer; just ask Elkridge, Md., native Sgt. Todd Cross.
“We don’t stop working ‘til the job gets done,” said the section leader with the unit. “Changing the track pads, like we did today, is a really long process that may take more than just a day to finish. I don’t know if you know this, but there are 320 track pads on a single tank. That definitely means you’re getting dirty out here.”
Cross and his Marines must usually swap out worn pads on each tank about every three months due to wear and tear. The rough and cratered terrain of Afghanistan takes a toll on the tanks’ pads and can cause damage to the tank if they are not replaced regularly.
“The tank can definitely take a beating,” explained Lance Cpl. Kevin Kuntschik, a tank gunner with the unit and a Gonzales, Texas, native. “But if (the tank is) not moving, we’re useless.”
Maintenance is a top priority because the tanks have become a large asset to the platoons providing overwatch in the area. The M-1A1 tanks bring a whole new element to the area and pack quite a punch with their 120 mm, smooth bore cannon, two M-240B Medium Machine Guns, and an M-2 .50-Caliber Machine Gun.
“My favorite part about being a tanker is that I’m in control of the biggest and baddest machine on the block,” said Kuntschik, who is responsible for manning the main gun on the tank. “So I don’t mind getting some dirt between the fingernails to keep her running.”
The team of tankers was covered in Afghan dirt as they only took a few short breaks to grab a sip of water and a bite of chow. They wrenched the pads off one by one and replaced them with new pads just as if the Marines were changing the tires on a car.
The day’s light began to dim and the sun had reached its setting point as the Marines reached a small obstacle. The power tool they were using to remove the tracks overheated and stopped working. The dusty, hot environment finally took its toll on the electric powered impact wrench which normally saves the tankers hours of work.
“We weren’t going to let that stop us,” explained Cross. “If the job’s not done, we just have to keep on trucking. My guys know that. So, they just wipe the sweat off their foreheads and keep on working.”
When every single pad was replaced on the 72-ton tank, the night breeze gave them a breath of cool air. They picked up all their tools and headed back to their 12-man tent.
As the tank sat under the moonlit sky awaiting the next day’s mission, the Marines of the first company to roll American tanks into Afghanistan reflected on the final scene of another day in the life of “Dirty Delta.”
“Being a tanker is hard work and demands a lot of dedication,” said Cross. “My Marines and I love it, and that is what makes us a really good team. Getting dirty is just a small bonus we really don’t mind.”