Tanks often roll-out in battalions. A tank battalion is typically made up of four companies, a company of three platoons, and a platoon of four tanks. That means that in most battles, the enemy will face AT LEAST forty-eight tanks. That’s three thousand sixty-four tons of steel rolling at them with enough firepower to level a major city in under three minutes. Do you remember what New York looked like at the end of “The Avengers?” Amateur hour.
The tank is the modern equivalent of the mounted knight. Tank battalions comprise the backbone of any American ground assault and, like knights, the armored divisions (which include any type of armored vehicle, as opposed to the peasants, er, soldiers marching on their own) are incredibly difficult for the enemy to dispatch. Thankfully, unlike knights, tanks don’t spend most days getting drunk and picking fights with their own men. If you’re going to march into a hail of machine gun fire, there are definitely worse places to be than stationed behind a rolling wall of bulletproof metal. As fun as this might sound, tanks are instruments of war. Whenever they’re deployed, things get destroyed and people die, sometimes the tank crew themselves.
A well-oiled crew is required to pilot a tank, and these soldiers must be led by a Tank Commander. Tank Commanders are to tanks what quarterbacks are to a football team. The whole thing would fall apart without them. They coordinate the decisions of the other crew members, implement orders from their commanding officers, and generally just make certain that their tank is lobbing exploding shells at the enemy and not at the tank next to them. After all, it’s dark in those things…
Tank Commanders, like most military positions, have to rise through the ranks.
They typically spend the preceding years aboard a tank either working the various other positions or becoming familiar with them. Aside from the Commander, each position is considered equally important to one another and the hierarchy inside of a tank relies completely upon a soldier’s rank.
Here’s a sampling of some of the other jobs aboard a tank:
Gunner. This guy’s in charge of the Big Gun Show, and we’re not talking about his biceps. We’re talking about a series of machine guns, grenade launchers, flame throwers, and the iconic cannon that can launch a round the size of a linebacker. He has to work the intricate electronic targeting systems that form the foundation of those giant guns. Once he gets a lock on the target, he gets to fire those giant guns and watch things explode.
Driver. The Driver is the pilot of the tank. He works the positioning systems, which is like a cross between a steering wheel and an X-Box controller, and ensures the tank is heading straight and isn’t about to fall into a ditch. He doesn’t like back-of-tank drivers and handles all the maneuvering himself. Make sure you don’t change the station on his radio. Driver always picks the music.
Loader. The Loader is responsible for loading the munitions onto the tank, taking inventory of it, and preparing it to be fired. In other words, he puts the bullets into the gun.
System Maintainer. This creatively named position is responsible for maintaining the tanks mechanical and electrical systems. He’s both the grease-monkey and the egghead aboard a tank. On a given day, he’ll run diagnostics on the electronic systems within a tank, make sure the mechanical systems are operating and the oil has been changed, and smooth out all of those “skull and lightning” decals.
Communications Officer. The Communications Officer will operate and maintain all communications, whether with the other tanks or with the commanding officers. He also makes sure that the tank’s Facebook status is current. Totally just destroyed an enemy outpost lol! Time for a latte. :)
Tank Commanders need to coordinate so that the crew can effectively communicate, move, and shoot. He’s a little like a basketball coach in that regard. Well, if a basketball coach could wipe hills from the face of the earth.
The Tank Commander takes orders directly from either a Platoon Leader or a Platoon Sargeant, depending on how the armored platoon is structured, which varies with the type of vehicle and branch of the military. In addition to having spent time in the other roles aboard a tank, you’ll need to attain a certain rank to be eligible for the job. For the Army, the minimum rank to apply is E-6, or Staff Sargeant. This represents six years within the military with exemplary performance and no major screw-ups. In other words, it’s probably best not to mention that time you lost a bet and had to clean the latrine with your bare hands.
As a Tank Commander, you lead men on the front lines of important battles and your decisions, or lack thereof, can greatly impact the result. If you perform well, you may find yourself listed among the great Tank Commanders of history, such as German Captain Michael Wittman, who was credited with destroying 138 tanks, 132 antitank guns, and countless other enemy supplies. Or Lt. Colonel Creighton Abrams, who was such a war machine that the US Army even named a tank class after him.
If you ever get to name a class of assault vehicle, may we suggest the M-1 Shmoop?