MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER Twentynine Palms, Calif -- Last week, the Marines of 1st Tank Battalion showcased their skills and equipment to support the making of a documentary explaining the capabilities and prowess of the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank.
Two producers and a cameraman spent five days with the Marines getting a firsthand look at what goes on inside the 68-ton beasts.
Marines of Delta Co., 3rd platoon, endured Hollywood-style takes, retakes and adjustments to tell their story.
Patiently, despite temperatures nearing 110 degrees each day, they answered questions in front of cameras, drove, loaded and climbed in and out of their positions over and over until the producers and cameraman were satisfied with each shot.
"It’s the least we can do for the tank community," said 2nd Lt. John Raineri, 3rd platoon commander, Delta Co., shrugging off the long days in the sun. "They allowed us to show our capabilities and keep us in the minds of the American public."
Raineri, an Ocala, Fla., native said in addition to bringing awareness to the tank community, his Marines were honing their teamwork skills.
"All the driving we’ve been doing is great," he said. "Anytime we drive, on or off camera, it’s great practice for the driver and the crew."
Drive they did, traversing both dry land and mud that was brought by the week’s thunderstorms.
The Marines maneuvered through obstacles behind the battalion’s wash rack, raced at top speeds along the tank trail and drove back and forth in the sand until the shots were perfect.
For the team from Henningar Productions, it was an on-base shoot like none they’d ever experienced.
Producer Nils Cowan said prior to the shoot, he knew nothing of the tank community except crew positions, battalions and names of people he might have the chance to interview.
"I knew basically what I had read," he said. "That American tank forces are the best trained in the world and have the best technology, and have been virtually indomitable since they first began using the Abrams."
Cowan said working with the Marines was an enjoyable experience.
"After doing a number of shows about pilots, I expected the same egos and hot-shot mentality," said Cowan. "They were unbelievably humble and very grounded guys."
After the week in the desert being exposed to the lives of tank crewmen, Cowan had a new perspective on the tanks and the men that live in them.
He said he admired the unit’s camaraderie.
"Maybe it’s attributable to their combat experiences, or maybe just because they spend 20 hours at a time stinking and sweating together in the tank," he said. "They were the most amenable and tightly knit group I've ever met in my experiences making programs about the military."
Fellow producer John Terp said he expects the show to be a huge hit, and credits that in part to the personalities and knowledge of the Marines they interacted with.
"With any good military technology show, the technology only takes you so far," he said. "Beyond that, the characters take over to make the show engaging. We couldn’t have asked for better characters."
Throughout the week, Terp referred to members of the crew from 3rd platoon as "Americas favorite tankers."
Before starting to explore the tank from top to bottom, the crew had the chance to observe Bravo Co. complete tank table eight gunnery at Range 500 on July 25.
Captain David Wilemon, Bravo Company commander, explained the importance of live-fire exercises in a series of interviews.
Later in the week, Marines from Delta Co.’s maintenance section introduced the crew to the behind-the-scenes efforts it takes to keep the Abrams in fighting shape.
The crew filmed tasks ranging from walking track to removing a "power pack"—the transmission/motor combination that keeps the tank running.
Tankers from all positions were interviewed, ensuring a well-rounded glimpse into the Abrams community.
Hopefully, along with learning the technical aspects of the Abrams, viewers will come to appreciate the men behind the machines as much as the producers did.
"The most surprising thing I learned is just the sheer inhospitable conditions these guys deal with on top of their combat duties," said Cowan. "The 30-degree-above-exterior-temperature inside the tank, the claustrophobia-inducing interior, the harmful gases that can sometimes come in the tank, and the amount of time they usually have to spend in there--all of these add up to an environment the average civilian couldn’t stand."
For the Marines of Delta Co, the motivation behind sharing their lives with the camera crew was simple.
Delta Co.’s Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Galloway, a 16-year veteran of the tank community had self-preservation in mind while answering the producers questions.
"Everyone wants tank support when we go to combat," said Galloway, a Desert Storm veteran who served in the Faulklands with the Royal Air Force Regiment before joining the Marine Corps. "Once the combat is over, and they start talking about budget cuts, the tanks seem to be the first things they want to get rid of. It’s as though they forget who we are and what we do."
For the men who spent a week delving into their lives, forgetting won’t happen anytime soon.
"Unless you’re a Marine, you never get to experience all of this," said Afshin Javadi, the lone man behind the camera while 18 32 minute tapes were filled and filed. "If I ever went to combat, I’d want them on my side."