When You Need a Tank, You Need a Tank…the Marine Corps Doesn’t Think So and Its Tankers Aren’t Happy
âWhen you need a tank, nothing else will suffice,â said Marine Corp MajorÂ Ronald âJRâ Valasek. He was referencing the Corpâs decision to pull tanks from their inventory of weapons. The monstrous dinosaurs that have wreaked havoc on battlefields around the world are peacefully slipping into retirement.
The proud tankers who operate these 65-ton destructive demons arenât pleased with the decision. âWe are small and we are all really cut from the same cloth,â Valasek said. As an armor officer, he has expressed how tankers are a close-knit community of warriors. âI will always be a tanker.â
Operations chief at the North Carolina-based 2nd Tank Battalion, Master Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Formella, spoke with Valasek as the last of the M1A1 tanks at Camp Lejeune were loaded onto rail cars.
âIt hurts seeing that [tank] ramp empty. Oh, it hurts. Iâve been trying to hold it together all week.â A 17-year Marine Corps veteran, Valasek told him itâs like losing a loved one.
Traditionally when a tanker retires from the Marines, a ceremony is conducted on the tank ramp under crossed 120 mm cannons. This steadfast tradition has been carried out for decades. No more. This truly saddens Valasek who is set to retire in a few years and had his heart set on going out in the same way as those before him have respectfully said goodbye to their distinguished careers.
âThis day has been coming for â¦ 30 years,â said Chris Juhls, a retired gunnery sergeant. âIt just so happens itâs now, and thereâs nothing we can do about it.â
When Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger constructed his vision of the Corpsâ future, it did not include heavy armor as well as several other divisions who were slated for oblivion. Though this has been expected for quite some time, itâs one of those things you keep hoping will happen next year, and then next year, and thenâ¦
Especially after getting caught up in some horrendous bloody battles in Fallujah, Iraq, Valasek said âtanks were an absolute necessity.â He firmly believes they saved the lives of hundreds of infantry troops who would have never tasted their mammas famous fried chicken again.
The Marine Corps sites the reason for the cutbacks as freeing up funds for the further development of more sophisticated modern weaponry without having to beg Congress for more money they probably wouldnât get anyway. So as is the Marine Corpsâ way, theyâll handle things themselves.
Still, Valasek has full confidence in Bergerâs decision. He knows it was not made lightly. The idea is to convert the Corpsâ into a more agile and streamlined battle group specifically meant to counter any trouble China may decide to present. In the overall scheme of things, Berger makes perfect sense.
The Army will continue to roll out tanks and other heavy ground equipment which better suits their operational mission. The Marines will go in light, fast, and hard.
While the Marine Corps views tanks strictly as support for troops on the ground, former Marine armor officer Dan Grazier worries about relying on another branch of the service providing proper cover when itâs specifically needed. Many times the timing needs to be precise.
âI really fear the day that a future Marine finds himself in a bind and looks around because he needs a tank and there isnât one there to help him,â Grazier said.
But being fully aware of how different combat situations call for different strategies, many of the tankers are convinced theyâll one day come back and their skills will be once again be called upon.
But until that day arrives, if and when it ever does, Master Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Formella summed it all up by saying, âJust because our equipmentâs going away, our brotherhoodâs not. It will never die. Our stories will continue through our kids â¦ until tanks come back.â