FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The M-1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank is a powerful weapon that Boise, Id. native Lance Cpl. Trent Hinchcliff wields to turn insurgent hideouts into terrorist rubble.
“These tanks mostly serve as a deterrent, making insurgents feel incapable of opposing us,” exclaimed the 25-year-old tank crewman, who currently serves with 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. “Tanks give us the ability to provide (ground infantry personnel) excellent security and surveillance capabilities.”
Hinchcliff’s Boise-based reserve unit, Company C, was activated in January to assist their fellow Marine infantrymen throughout western Iraq’s Al Anbar province.
Hinchcliff, a former student of economics at Boise State University, arrived here in mid-March. Since then, he, his fellow tankers, and the armored juggernauts they pilot have rolled out on dozens of missions in and around Fallujah.
Approximately nine months ago, Marines fighting in Fallujah relied heavily on the Abrams’ massive firepower to subdue terrorists occupying the city. Some insurgents were allegedly pumped-up on pain inhibiting drugs, would hold up in buildings and would fight to the death. However, a well-placed 120mm round courtesy of the Abrams’ quickly breeched the insurgent fortresses.
Though insurgents continue attacking military convoys and patrols with roadside bombs, peace has largely returned to Fallujah. The Abrams’ firepower and intimidation factor continue being a key element to success on the battlefield, nevertheless.
“We’ve mostly been providing security in the city by showing our presence and watching out for people emplacing bombs,” Hinchcliff said, explaining how he and his crew frequently observe highly transited military routes cutting through Fallujah.
The tank provides gunners with excellent surveillance capabilities during these routine missions. These armored behemoths come equipped with systems permitting a stabilized night and daytime 360 degree field of vision. Once a terrorist is sighted, it’s all downhill for him.
The tank’s main armament consists of a 120mm M256 smooth bore gun, primarily used against armored vehicles. For protection against smaller targets, a tank commander wields an M2 .50 caliber heavy machinegun, while fellow crewmen like Hinchcliff man a 7.62 M240G medium machinegun.
“We’re also getting a canister round soon, which works similar to a shotgun shell,” Hinchcliff said, explaining how this anti-personnel round can be fired from the tank’s main gun.
The Abrams can inflict heavy damage on terrorists, but the insurgency fails to return the favor. These tanks come armored against even nuclear, biological and chemical assaults, as their steel-encased depleted uranium armor protect them from everything but the strongest of assaults. These defenses have already proven effective against insurgents’ roadside bombs, one of the insurgents’ primary weapons in Iraq.
“We hit a bomb once, but this tank handled it really well,” Hinchcliff explained. “All we saw was a cloud of smoke envelop us. We were thinking, ‘Wow, we hit a bomb.’ We rolled forward a few hundred meters, fixed our damaged tread, then got on the move again.”
Although these tanks may seem like unstoppable juggernauts, Hinchcliff added that he is grateful for not having to unleash the beast’s armaments.
“It’s a good thing we haven’t had much excitement. It seems like we’re doing our job well enough here, because Fallujah’s security has improved significantly. The Marines have done a good job maintaining security here.”
Several more months and missions here await Hinchcliff and his fellow tankers, where they will endure hellish heat in and out of their tanks.
“It gets to be about 130 degrees inside the tank,” Hinchcliff stated. “Sometimes it takes everything in me to not fall asleep and keep vigilant in this heat.”
These hardships have served not only to safeguard the formerly war-torn Fallujah, but to teach Marines like Hinchcliff, who is on his first deployment, valuable life lessons.
“Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is how much I love my wife (Andrea),” Hinchcliff said. “I have a much better appreciation for those who’ve come here before, and all of the sacrifices they made. I’m really proud to be serving my country, and I’m thankful for all the support people back home have given us.”