CAMP GRAYLING, Mich. -- Marines with Fox Company, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, tested their ability to conduct operations in the deep snow and extreme cold of the harsh northern Michigan winter during exercise Winter Break 18, aboard Camp Grayling, Michigan, Feb. 6-14.
This was the first time the Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, based tank company conducted training specifically designed to improve their ability to operate in austere cold weather environments.
“Especially for Fox Company, this training gives us something else to work on outside of Camp Lejeune,” said Gunnery Sgt. Kyle Lloyd, the master gunner of Fox Co., 4th Tank Bn., 4th MarDiv. “It tasks us to an environment the Marines don’t normally operate in.”
The Marines began with land navigation, formations, night driving and a class on concealment and camouflage, which is more challenging in a snowy environment, particularly for an armored vehicle as large as the Abrams M1A1 Main Battle Tank. Throughout the week, Marines advanced to platoon offensive and defensive operations, then company level operations.
For many of the Marines taking part in the exercise, battling the cold was only a portion of the experience.
“Being out here is definitely cold, but it gets us out and into a different environment.” said Sgt. Michael Colbert, a tank crewman with Fox Co., 4th Tank Bn., 4th MarDiv. “We’re able to challenge ourselves on how we operate as a unit. Whether it’s hot, cold or raining, it doesn’t matter what the environment really is. Here in the Marine Corps, you learn how to lead, how to organize and be productive.”
Friction was built into the training exercise and there were unexpected challenges as well.
“Cold weather affects everything we do,” said Capt. Andrew Bender, commanding officer of Fox Co., 4th Tank Bn., 4th MarDiv. “In short, it has to be more deliberate. A lot of what we do is limited by weather that routinely gets down to single digits or below zero. In addition, the thought process. Simply thinking and responding to unknown uncertainties, friction points and chaos tends to be slower in Marines who aren’t acclimatized to an environment of such an extreme nature.”
Winter Break 18 was also an opportunity for Marines to validate their cold weather equipment. The M1A1 tank uses rubber pads on the track to provide adhesive friction. But under icy conditions in steep terrain, the rubber pads on the track loose traction, just like automobile tires lose traction on icy roads in winter. The Marines installed "ice cleats" on every fifth shoe of the track of their M1A1 tanks to give more "bite" and to provide traction on icy and hilly terrain.
Fox Co., a Marine Corps Reserve unit, regularly trains with and augments 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, which is also located at Camp Lejeune.
“For the bigger picture, for the Marine Corps, this is allowing us to go through and validate the training and readiness standards for the tank community for both Reserve and active duty Marines,” said Lloyd. “We’re ensuring that not only are we training Reserve Marines to what ongoing threats are, but we’re showing the active component what’s going on as well.”
The cross-country mobility, sophisticated communications, enhanced day and night target acquisition, lethal firepower and highly effective armor protection an M1A1 tank provides the Marine Air Ground Task Force is invaluable. Even more significant, is the crew of well-trained Marines behind it.
“As Marines, we must be ready 24 hours, seven days a week for whenever the nation calls,” said Bender. “As is often stated, 'The Marine Corps is America's 9-1-1 force. The benefits of this exercise, I think, are going to last for many years to come.”