TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Marines with Company F, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division participated in a Mechanized Assault Course as part of Integrated Training Exercise 4-13 at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, June 23-24. ITX is the largest annual Marine Forces Reserve training exercise and a cornerstone of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Program, with more than 5,000 Marines participating from units across the United States.
The MAC incorporated a variety of different fire-support assets such as: attack helicopters, artillery, tanks, and amphibious assault vehicles.
“If we actually went to combat we would need to effectively interact with other units,” said Lance Cpl. Samuel Garcia, tank crewman, and native of Okeechobee, Fla. “We’re used to working as a small team, but now there are a few hundred Marines to work with. It is very different and can be challenging at times, but it makes the training much more realistic.”
With such a large force depending on them, tankers need to be proficient in their job skills to accomplish the mission.
“After an exercise like this you get to see the big picture, not just your job,” Garcia said. “You see how everything comes together and how everyone has to work together to make it happen.”
The M1A1 Abrams tank that the Marines operate brings numerous force multipliers to the battlefield that other assets cannot.
“An infantry unit can only go so far, air support can only do so much, artillery can only be so precise, but tanks go in with the ability to go where other forces can’t,” Garcia said. “Tanks can go in with speed, armor and fire power all in one element.”
Even though tanks have been designed for all types of terrain, Co. F tankers are limited to what their training station has to offer them.
“The terrain is very different than what we are used to training on. The heat and sand help to simulate a deployed environment,” said Lance Cpl. Sam Aguilera, tank crewman, and native of Jacksonville, N.C. “It definitely keeps us on our toes and ready for anything.”
Co. F’s junior Marines had the opportunity to gain a wealth of experience operating in this desert environment for the first time.
“Some of our less-experienced Marines have never had the chance to come out here and do this kind of training before. A live-fire exercise like this puts a little more experience under their belts,” said Cpl. Joshua Fernandez, a tank commander, and native of Los Angeles. “It will enable them to pass on knowledge to their peers and subordinates when they become leaders themselves.”
For many of the infantry Marines, this was their first time working alongside the massive M1A1 Abrams tank. With its 120mm main gun and jet engine, the M1A1 can add lethal firepower and speed to any ground element.
“This really helped us show Marines what we are capable of doing,” said Cpl. Wayne Kendall, a tank gunner, and native of Washington, N.C. “Tanks are an extremely effective tool on the battlefield.”
An exercise like the MAC puts a large amount of combined arms together in a single area. Tankers were able to engage multiple simulated targets at known and unknown distances while coordinating with ground and air units to simulate a combat situation.
“I’ve never seen anything as big as this exercise,” Kendall added. “Just seeing all of the different assets together is very impressive. We don’t have a large scale training center like this back home, so we try to take advantage of it as much as possible.”
Tank units have deployed to Afghanistan often, but many are given alternate missions that don’t involve using their 69-ton vehicles. Co. E, 4th Tank Bn, became a route-clearance platoon during their deployment overseas and Co. F may do the same in the following months.
“Regardless of whether we are deploying or not, we still have to be prepared,” added Aguilera. “I’d rather have the training and not need it than need it and not have it.”
ITX 4-13 is a cornerstone of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Program. It is the largest annual U.S. Marine Corps Reserve training exercise; helping establish best practices, refine planning guidance and baseline requirements for future Reserve units.