BY T.P. SCHWEIDER
A tank, by itself, is just an inert mass of metal. It takes a crew to turn it into a lethal weapon system. So, who are they, the people who make up the crews, the tankers? I’ll attempt in this article to define them for you, as to just what, and who, is a tanker? Physically, he’ll be between 5’5” to 6’3” tall and of stocky build. He has to be tall enough and strong enough to pull himself up on the vehicle just to start with. And then running and maintaining a tank is definitely NOT a task for frail, slender body types. Hard, heavy physical labor is required. A road wheel weighs 90 Lbs: one track block weighs in at 70Lbs.: Ammo for the main gun, depending on type varies from 45 to 54 Lbs per round: and one can easily get a hernia slinging boxes of .50 cal MG ammo around. Firing 20 main gun rounds in 10 minutes; changing a road wheel that’s lost to much rubber; replacing 3 or 4 track blocks are not jobs for the 90 lb. Weaklings.
A tanker must have manual dexterity, mechanical aptitude and situational awareness. If he’s serving as a loader and let’s his mind wander off after loading a main gun round and fails to move, the recoiling breach block will do ugly and painful things to his frail body. He has to have the stamina to put in 14 to 16 hr. days for 2 weeks running in various extreme weather conditions and maintain his physical and mental edge.
And speaking of things mental, a crucial characteristic is Attitude. He has to be resourceful, optimistic and have an excellent sense of humor. Resourceful in devising repairs that are not always in the book and improvising ways of living in the field with a degree of comfort. Optimistic because if he broods about the many possibilities of serious injury during peacetime operations or the Wartime realities of death by burning or blast, it will lead to mental breakdown.
In summation, one of the best descriptions ever made was written by a legendary Marine (naturally!) GYSGT H.G. Duncan in a small volume titled BROWN SIDE OUT:
That dusty, crusty, grease-covered, dirty, sweaty, bright-eyed, fuzzy-faced, haircut-needing, beer-drinking, underrated, overworked, underpaid, oversexed, little ****, who can take a tank and do more battlefield damage in ten minutes than a Grunt squad can do all day.