GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The Black Hawks of America's Tank Division have been soaring through the tank and Bradley tables of the Joint Multinational Training Command. For the Bandits of 1st Squadron, 1st U.S. Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, their big game began Jan. 16 on Table VIII.
"Tank Table VIII is the Super Bowl for tank crews," said Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Chaplin, assistant master gunner.
"This is the capstone for crew gunnery," said Army Maj. Mark Camarena, squadron executive office. "Prior to this, these crews have done everything from home station maintenance training to the tank crew proficiency course as well as all the preliminary tables."
During Table VIII, Soldiers fire their M-1A1 Abrams tanks and Bradleys at several targets during both day and night hours.
"The targets are plywood, pop-up targets," Chaplin said. "Once a target is hit, whether it's a direct hit or not, it will fall down. If missed, the target will not fall down."
While the troops fire and fight from their vehicles, their actions are monitored from the tower.
"The tower is your command and control area. Nothing is done without the tower's permission," Chaplin said. "Here, I also ensure that safety comes first and that everyone is in the proper uniform so that no one gets hurt."
Not only can Chaplin ensure safety from the tower, but monitoring personnel can better ensure the accuracy of fired rounds.
"We use a camera to make sure that there are no mistakes being made as far as a target hit or a target missed," Chaplin said.
The Bandits were challenged with several targets.
"We have some defense engagements and some offence engagements," said Army Spec. John Cain, tank driver. "Defense engagements are stationary and fought from a battle position. Offense engagements are in motion, and as a driver, you just try and maintain a steady platform for the gunner."
It took a combined effort for the Bandits to fight these targets.
"Everyone in the tank is important. We only have four crew members, so if one of our crew members goes down then we're down a fourth of our capability," Cain said. "It doesn't matter whether you are a driver, loader, gunner or TC (tactical commander). All are important to the overall mission."
It's not only tankers who fired on Tank Table VIII. Army Spec. Johnnie Jones III, a mechanic, got the chance to join a tank crew.
"I didn't get very much prep time because I was busy working on the tanks," Jones said, "but, it's great to get a chance to do something you don't do every day."
After the crews fired, the camera system made it possible for them to see exactly what and how they did. The Soldiers are then scored based on everything they do.
"If they say the wrong fire command they could lose points," said Army Sgt. Bradley Odonnell, operations noncommissioned officer.
After the crews qualify on the range, it's time to celebrate.
"We (1/1 Cavalry) like to go the extra step to recognize excellence in order to promote esprit de corps within the squadron," Camarena said.
"This is a culmination of hard work over the last six months," said Army 1st Sgt. David Glen, Bandit Troop first sergeant.
In recognizing the excellence, qualifying troops are welcomed to the Black Hawk Den.
"The Black Hawk Den is a tradition of 1/1 Cav., and basically it's to recognize all crews that qualify first run on Tank Table VIII," Camarena said. "It also recognizes those crews who go above and beyond the standard and either qualify superior or distinguished.
"If you qualify distinguished, which is the highest grade on Tank Table VIII, you get a badge that you wear every day on your uniform in Budigen that recognizes you as a member of a distinguished crew," Camarena continued. "You also sign the Role of Honor which is forever kept in our historical room.
"If you ever visit Budigen, you'll recognize that when a Soldier is wearing his spurs and his stets, and he's got his distinguished badge on his uniform that he stands up a little taller, he walks a little prouder, he calls cadence a little louder," Camarena said. "And, that's the whole reason that we recognize the traditions of the Cav."
Tank crews who shoot more than 900 of a possible 1000 points also receive an Army Achievement Medal.
"It's a good feeling to know that your crew went down, you shot the best you could, you fought the tank, and you qualified on the first time," Cain said.
"We had some hard times, but we qualified distinguished, and it was worth it," Jones said. "It just feels good to be a part of the team."