MIGHTY CULTURE
Kevin Fleming

How US soldiers keep Abrams tanks ready for action

(Winifred Brown/Fort Bliss Public Affairs)

The following is an interview with Sgt. 1st Class Robert Ford, one of the soldiers entrusted with maintaining the tank capabilities at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5.

Look through the pictures to see how Ford and a team of contractors reattach a turret on an Abrams M1A2. Ford also recently passed the board for entry into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, and he talks about what he learned.

With nine years of service, Ford is on his third overseas deployment, having served in both Afghanistan and South Korea. (The interview was edited for clarity and length.)


What is the most important thing to know about maintaining the Abrams M1A2?

Abrams M1A2 tanks stored at an Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 warehouse at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 10, 2019. APS-5 is a massive amount of ground force equipment positioned to provide strategic planners options to win in the US Central Command's area of responsibility.

(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)

Ford: The most important thing to know about the maintenance of tanks is that they are very big and very expensive. Even the smallest components can cost a lot more than the average military vehicle, which means it's that much more important to get the maintenance on them right.

For example, the operation we recently did to put a turret back on a tank had to be completed with extreme care and precision as not to damage the vehicle. The cost of error is one of those things you can't help but to think about when planning maintenance on these.

I noticed a huge team effort in putting the turret back on the tank. Is that a special event for people here?

Sgt. 1st Class. Robert Ford, quality assurance for tanks, 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, watches as contractors at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 work to lift a 30-ton turret at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 23, 2019.

(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)

Ford: We rarely pull turrets off or put them on, so every time it does happen it seems like it becomes a bit of a spectacle. That's because we are lifting a 30-ton piece of equipment and moving it around with no room for error. It's definitely something to see and experience.

It takes a lot of eyes to ensure that turret is coming out and going in straight. The turret is a machine fit — only just big enough to get into the hole of the tank. If anything is off to the left or right, there is a possibility of damaging equipment and that equipment is very expensive. In this case, the turret was level and fit well into its proper place.

What is your role in a maintenance operation like this?

Sgt. 1st Class. Robert Ford, quality assurance for tanks, 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, stands in front of an Abrams M1A2 tank at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Oct. 6, 2019.

(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)

Ford: I fill the quality inspection role while [the contractors] are doing the majority of the work. As the contracting officer's representative, I ensure the terms of the contract are fulfilled. I also verify and accept the completed work on behalf of the government.

As you can see there [in the third photo], the guy on the tank is in charge of the crane. I'm just there for safety reasons and then just to ensure it's put together properly and safely. That's all I'm looking for. But, if they need my advice as an expert on the vehicle, then I'll interject when I feel it's necessary. I try to stay back and let them do the job.

I noticed you jumped in a few times to help give directions. Is that typical?

A contractor with Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 directs a crane operator to briefly stop lowering a 30-ton turret onto an Abrams M1A2 so others could check its alignment to the mount at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, September 23, 2019.

(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)

Ford: There were a couple instances where they were unsure on how to move forward on that operation and, you know, time is always of the essence. That's when I stepped forward to provide another set of eyes. But this was their operation, and I was mostly just watching it come together.

Some of the contractors have more familiarity with older tank models because they used those when they served. Sometimes I have to help fill the knowledge gap they have to help things along. But they have familiarity with each other — using hand signals they worked out that I don't know, and that's important for working as a team.

Can you tell me a little about the team doing the work?

Ernie Boyd, work center supervisor at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5, provides positioning guidance as a crew lowers a turret back on an Abrams M1A2 tank at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 23, 2019.

(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)

Ford: I think the team takes their role very seriously. Take Ernie Boyd for example. He is a retired Marine with 14 years of experience working on tanks. He is one of my go-to guys for tanks and for solving work center issues.

He definitely takes his work seriously — you can tell. He's a supervisor for the work center, but during this turret operation, he was doing a lot more than supervising. He was extremely hands-on in ensuring that operation went according to plan.

What is Army Prepositioned Stocks-5?

Sgt. 1st Class. Robert Ford, quality assurance for tanks, 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, provides another set of eyes for a maintenance operation to place a turret back on an Abrams M1A2 tank at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 23, 2019.

(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)

Ford: APS-5 is a massive set of equipment placed here to make rapidly deploying units faster. We give the warfighter the material capability they need to complete their missions.

Looking at the big picture, our job is to ensure APS-5 continues to provide viable strategic options to win.

All of our tanks are stored inside our warehouses ready for issue. They are configured for combat, meaning a unit can come in, hop in a tank, and drive it off the lot. They're quick and ready to roll out for any mission.

This mission is important because there will come a day when a deploying unit will need this equipment, and if it's not ready, then it could slow their mission down. It can be a life or death situation. Being able to provide the warfighter with the most ready equipment is our focus every day.

Tell me about the first time you saw Army Prepositioned Stocks-5.

A maintenance crew at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 reattaches a 30-ton turret to an Abrams M1A2 tank at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 23, 2019.

(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)

Ford: I walked into one of our warehouses and saw an entire battalion worth of tanks. They were in lines all facing each other as far as I could see — 72-ton vehicles all the way down from wall to wall.

You don't often get to see something like that. Usually tanks are scattered out in fragmented lines waiting for operations or maintenance.

When I first saw it, I definitely felt excited about our mission and my part in it because I am the only tank [quality assurance] soldier here. All those tanks sitting there embodied my reason for being in Kuwait.

What do you think of DFAC food?

Contractors with Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 watch closely as a crane lowers a 30-ton turret back onto an Abrams M1A2 tank at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 23, 2019. The turret is machine-fit to the tank, and must be placed carefully to avoid costly damage.

(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)

Ford: Um, keeps me alive. I haven't died or anything yet (laughter). Dry chicken and rice are great — just be sure you have plenty of water so you can swallow the chicken.

I know you will soon be inducted into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club. Why did you decide to go to the board and what did you learn?

Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles in lots maintained by the 401st Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Oct. 22, 2016.

(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)

Ford: Sergeant Audie Murphy Club provides continuous opportunities to serve throughout a career and beyond. The club's mission is to develop and build professional noncommissioned officers and to provide community service to every Army community. So every duty station I go to from here forward, I get to go out to do good things for people while representing the Army and the NCO corps.

I learned it's a big challenge, and with big challenges like that you don't succeed on your own. I had to seek out a lot of mentorship and leadership scenarios from my leaders and all the way up through brigade. I had to expose my flaws and weaknesses; that way, they could help me correct those weaknesses. It's just not enough to go in having read a book. You have to have real-life application of regulations and policies.

Of the Army values, which stand out most to you?

Trucks bring in APS-5 equipment from Camp Buehring back to Camp Arifjan during the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team turn-in, Feb. 5, 2019.

(US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Veronica McNabb)

Ford: I think loyalty is a big one for me. Your loyalty is always being tested. You have to constantly be loyal to your seniors, your peers, your subordinates, your unit, the Army, and the nation. You have to buy into that mission to really give it all that you have – you can't waver on that.

Respect is another huge value for me. Without respect, you can't have trust. Without trust, you can't be a leader and you can't be led. That's our primary job, and you can't be a good leader without first being a good follower.

What advice would you give to young soldiers?

Soldiers assigned to the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team prepare to move 22 M1A2 Abrams Tanks from an Army Prepositioned Stock-5 warehouse to a remote staging lot during a large-scale equipment issue at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, June 29, 2019.

(US Army photo by Justin Graff)

Ford: Don't be afraid to fail, just put yourself out there. You never really know how much support you have until you are out there asking for support, so put yourself out there and allow people to help you.

We have a lot of good leaders in the military. They see you taking initiative and they see your desire to better yourself, they're going to pick you up and provide you with what you need.

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