Story by Maj. Cindi King, S.C. National Guard Public Affairs
Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago, S.C. National Guard Public Affairs
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The M1A1 Abrams tank has been in the equipment inventory for the South Carolina Army National Guard for over two decades.
For their last mission in the state, 29 M1A1 tanks were loaded on flatbed railcars in Columbia, S.C. for their departure to a depot in California for final disposition, June 25, 2014. The M1A1 tanks in the S.C. Army National Guard were recently replaced by the newer M1A1 SA (Situation Awareness) main battle tank in March 2014.
“It’s a one for one swap,” said 1st Lt. Omar Benjamin, shop foreman for the unit training equipment site at the McCrady Center in Eastover. “These tanks were probably the oldest in the inventory and we were very pleased to receive the new M1A1 SA models.”
The M1A1 SA has digital capabilities and allows for the firing of multiple targets at the same time. The S.C. Army National Guard received the older model M1A1 Abrams in the mid-90s following Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East.
“The M1A1 Abrams were originally part of the ORF, or operational readiness float,” said Col. Jody Dew, the Director of Logistics for the S.C. National Guard. “The mission of this tank in the S.C. Army National Guard is part of the strategic reserve when called for combat operations.”
Dew said the tanks have trained at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin and have been displayed at many community events to showcase the capabilities of the U.S Army. He said the 1-118th Combined Arms Battalion recently completed a gunnery exercise with the new tanks at Fort Stewart, Ga. Soldiers also loaded several of the new tanks onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane during an exercise at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, S.C.
“These are outstanding pieces of equipment and the newer models will greatly assist us with maintaining readiness and reducing maintenance costs. The public always enjoys seeing and learning about tanks,” said Dew. “They are one of the highlights when we’re out in the public or supporting an event.”
There were more than 20 Soldiers assisting with the transport and driving of the tanks to get them from the McCrady Training Center to the flatbed rail cars.
“Everything was very safe and went smoothly both days we were moving the tanks,” said Staff Sgt Christopher Hawthorne, a maintenance mechanic. “We had 18 loaded the first day, thanks to good coordination.”
Hawthorne said the team was happy to see the tanks moving on. They were so old it was getting to be a challenge to keep them ready, he added.
As the row of railcars with tanks were lined up, a National Guard sticker was faintly visible on one of the tanks that had been used at the annual downtown Columbia Veteran’s Day parade.
Dew said the tanks symbolized a lot of dynamics in the role of the National Guard, with the fielding of them after Desert Storm, maintaining readiness after the terrorist attacks on 9-11, and the transitioning associated with the drawdown of forces overseas.
“These tanks hopefully inspired a generation to join the National Guard and serve their country,” said Dew. “It’s kind of like a children’s story with an older, wiser character. They teach and then know when it’s time to move on.”