By GAVIN LAPAILLE
Gold Standard Staff Writer
While most of the artillery units moved off Fort Knox several years ago, tanks and loud booms still have a presence on post. Marines from the Company E, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division are in the process of completing their annual artillery training at Wilcox Range.
“It’s routine training we do here every year to enhance our military occupational skills,” Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Dordal said. “For us it’s tanks, weapon training, anything that will help us prepare for any kind of combat situation that may arise.”
The company has more than 100 Marines stationed at Fort Knox, with the tank training split up due to time constraints and scheduling concerns with Soldiers also working civilian jobs. Training starts around 10 a.m., and runs through the night in order to prepare the unit and get them qualified to shoot out in the field.
Each tank has four crew members—a driver, loader, gunner and tank commander. Each works together inside the tanks and goes through simulators to make sure they are ready to be deployed if needed. During training, the unit works on engaging targets and reloading the tanks.
Those new to the company start out as drivers, before moving up the ladder to tank commanders. Drivers have a small window they look through, but can’t see behind them, so they rely on the commander’s instructions while backing up the tanks.
Dordal said nothing can prepare new enlistees for the sound the tank makes upon firing.
“When you’re at school and training and you go to the gun range and you hear the cannon go off, you’re like ‘whoa what was that?’” Dordal said. “It’ll knock the breath out of you if you are closer.”
The unit most recently deployed in 2012, but not as an artillery unit, helping detect explosive devices in Afghanistan. About half of the crew are new enlistees since the last deployment.
Part of their training revolves around using virtual simulators that mimic conditions seen in the field and helps cuts down the use of ammo while Soldiers are training, which Dordal said is similar to a big video game.
When they are outside, people throughout the area may hear the tank’s firing. How loud and how far the noise travels depends on several factors, including temperature, wind and cloud coverage.
“Clouds tend to reflect those sound waves and sometimes even focus them over great distances,” said Stuart Holder, operations officer for Fort Knox Range Control. “Some of the stuff we do here is no different than we’ve done in the past but it’s being heard many miles away.”
Dordal has been in the Marines for 19 years now, including two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. He said it’s still fun to get inside the tank, even after all of these years.
“It’s definitely fun,” Dordal said. “I’ve been doing this for 19 years and I love every minute of it. It’s a good time.”