US Army has a company ready to deploy tanks anywhere in the world in 18 hours

A soldier from 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division ground guides a M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank onto a rail car at Fort Stewart, Georgia March 7. The brigade sent more than 1,000 pieces of equipment by rail across the United States to Fort Irwin, California for the brigade’s upcoming rotation at the National Training Center. Photo by Maj. Randy Ready

When one thinks of America’s Global Reaction Forces (GRF) images of Army paratroopers falling from their Air Force sky-taxis and US Marines coming ashore from their floating Navy houseboats, all within 18 hours of being notified it’s time to roll.

However, the “tip of the spear” is beginning to look more like a trident- and a heavy one at that- as a company of Army M1 Abrams tanks has been added to the GRF lineup.

Stationed in Savannah, Georgia, under the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, the men of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment have been assigned the unique role of being ready to take their tanks to the sky within 18 hours of an international incident.

The rest of 1st Armored Brigade is currently at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin conducting large-scale battle training.

The only purpose-built mechanized GRF unit, the unit is able (with the help of the US Air Force, of course) to deploy heavy American steel anywhere in the world when needed, a symbol of a changing battlefield.

“We’re wheels up in 18 hours,” said Capt. Matthew Connell, the company’s commander. “If the global response force was ever to get the call and get sent into whatever mission … we provide the firepower necessary to protect whatever force gets on the ground before us. We’re kind of the muscle behind that that would help sustain the mission.”

The tanks stay parked next to the airstrip at Hunter Army Airfield, in the event that a C-5 Galaxy transport plane needs to whisk them away to a global hotspot.

At the same time, parts and equipment have to be hauled out as well.

“It’s just really heavy equipment,” 1st Lt. Jimmy Adams, the company’s support platoon leader, told Savannah Now. “From the maintenance side, things break. We have to keep the vehicles in a ready state, so we have commodities on hand to be able to get them on the bird with them functioning when they get there, and we make sure we’ve got the proper tie-downs and soldiers trained to get on the bird and have all the stuff so they don’t rock too much when they actually take off.”

Despite the logistics headaches, the unit drills regularly for their prestigious task, which they likely hold in high regard.

“Power projection is our bread and butter,” said Kevin Larson, a spokesman for the combined Fort Stewart-Hunter installation. “Being able to do that kind of heavy lift from Hunter Army Airfield is what we’re all about.”

The change in equipment reflects the military’s shift in ground warfare tactics, which runs parallel with a changing enemy. Despite GRF operations -such as Grenada in 1983- where “speed bump” units like the 75th Ranger Regiment, 82nd or 173rd Airborne would have been sufficient, the possibility of facing off larger and more armor-heavy enemies presents a new challenge.

With US forces reportedly becoming complacent with the idea of rotational deployments to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the focus has been turned to fine-tuning the ability to deploy quickly at a moment’s notice.

The issue of quick response is nothing new. Since the dawn of the Global War on Terror, military units have become accustomed to the “long road” method of scheduled deployments, slowly forgetting how to get a lot of men and equipment into a hot zone, quick, fast and in a hurry.

“The way we’ve been deploying is not useful for the world we live in now,” Lt. Gen. Patrick Donahue -then-deputy commander of US Army Forces Command- told Defense News last March, when asked how the US Army needs to rebuild it’s quick-readiness abilities after nearly 15 years of rotational deployments. “We’ve gotten rusty.”

“We’ve been deploying for 15 years, but I would suggest we haven’t been doing it the way we need to be doing it for the future,” added Lt. Gen. Gustave Perna, then-Army deputy chief of staff for logistics. “The [Army Force Generation] model served us well while we were fighting those two wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan], but it won’t serve us as we need to be ready to execute expeditionary deployments and then expeditionary operations.”

The concept of QRD (also known as a Rapid Deployment Force) also demands that the designated units are often required to be trained to higher standards than their non-QRD counterparts. Between drills, exercises and tightening of logistics, such units have to be in a constant state of readiness and flexible enough to enter any situation. During Operation Urgent Fury in 1983, Rangers staged in Barbados were on the ground in Grenada within 18 hours, with the 82nd Airborne and Marines arriving behind them.

From the sea, Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) often fill in the gaps for rapid force projection, bringing all their ground, sea and air equipment with them. Stationed aboard amphibious assault ships resembling miniature aircraft carriers, Marines can bring their own transport aircraft, amphibious armor, gunships and even attack aircraft to bear all at once.

Despite the capabilities currently available, the US military wants to be more flexible- and the QRD armor company is a good example of things to come.

As the military looks to make equipment lighter and troopers in a higher state of readiness, the Airborne and Marines -with help from a plucky company of Army tankers- currently fill the gap- standing ready as “America’s 911 force.”

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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