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Army National Guard tank crew team wins 2016 Sullivan Cup

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Greetings from the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), our Army’s association for education and professional development, and a major supporter of the Army’s Soldier for Life efforts.  

The 3rd Bi-Annual Sullivan Cup Competition took place in May at Fort Benning, Georgia, with 16 tank crews competing to be the best of the best.

The Sullivan Cup is named for Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., president and CEO of AUSA, and the 32nd Army Chief of Staff. 

The five-day competition allows the best tank crews from across the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and select international partners from around the world to demonstrate their levels of training and proficiency in tank gunnery and related armor crewman skills.

The winning tank crew who earned the 2016 Sullivan Cup was C Company, 1st Battalion, 252nd Armor Regiment from the 30th Armor Brigade Combat Team, “Old Hickory,” U.S. Army National Guard.

Each Regular Army division was invited to send one tank crew for every armored brigade combat team in its organization to compete in the Sullivan Cup, for a total of 9 crews.

These nine crews came from the following divisions and Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ABCTs):

  • 1st Infantry Division-1st ABCT, B Company, 3-66 Armor 
  • 1st Infantry Division–2nd ABCT, D Company, 1-63 Armor 
  • 1st Armored Division–2nd ABCT, A Company, 1-37 Armor 
  • 1st Armored Division–3rd ABCT, D Troop, 2-13 Cavalry
  • 1st Cavalry Division–1st ABCT, 2-5 Cavalry 
  • 1st Cavalry Division – 2nd ABCT, C Company, 1-9 Cavalry 
  • 1st Cavalry Division–3rd ABCT, D Company, 6-9 Cavalry 
  • 3rd Infantry Division–1st ABCT, C Company, 1-64 Armor 
  • 4th Infantry Division–3rd ABCT, A Company, 1-68 Armor 

In addition, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and the 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry from the Armor School at Fort Benning, were each invited to send one crew.

The U.S. Army National Guard supported the competition with two crews from the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment based in Tennessee, and the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team from North Carolina.

The U.S Marine Corps competed with a tank crew from the 2nd Marine Division.

Selected international partners were invited to send two tank crews.

Canada was the only international partner this year, supporting the competition with two crews.

In all, a total of 16 tank crews competed for the honor of winning the 2016 Sullivan Cup and the reputation of being known as the world’s best tank crew.

The qualifications published by the Armor School to compete in the Sullivan Cup competition specify only qualified crews of four members who meet the prerequisites for conducting full-caliber live-fire training as specified in Training Circular 3-20.31 may compete.

The Armor School guidance further directs participating units to allow only qualified battle-roster tank crews currently holding tank commander, gunner, driver and loader responsibilities within their respective organizations to compete.

To discourage the “stacking” of tank crews for this competition, competing criteria for the crewmen identifies loaders and drivers as skill level 10 soldiers holding the 19K10 MOS.

Furthermore, gunners will be 19K20 and tank commanders with the MOS of 19K30, 19K40 or 19A (armor officers) personnel. 

This year’s winning tank crew was commanded by 1st Lt. John Dupre, with gunner Sgt. Curtis Bowen, loader Spec. Brandon Sinor and driver Pfc. Phillip Hill.

The tank crew’s parent unit, the 1st Battalion, 252nd Armor Regiment, is based in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and is part of the 30th Armor Brigade Combat Team, which consists of more than 3,400 soldiers assigned to units based across North Carolina, and West Virginia.

“Competition is going to bring out the best in everybody,” said Dupre.

Adding, “All of the crews have done something to get here.  They won an internal competition or were selected by their units because they are outstanding in their field.”

Dupre lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, and is an insurance adjuster in his civilian job.

I had the opportunity to talk to this crew and learn more about their tank experience and their home station gunnery-training plan in preparation for this competition.

Dupre was commissioned in 2010 and immediately assigned as a tank platoon leader and tank commander in C Company.

Army National Guard tank crews generally conduct one tank gunnery live-fire training period each year during their primary annual training event.

Coming into this competition, Dupre had six tank gunneries under his belt as a tank commander, while his gunner, Bowen, had seven; the loader, Sinor, had four; and Hill, the driver, had one.

In preparation for the competition, the crew told me they spent a lot of time training in the tank gunnery training simulator, formally known as the Advanced Gunnery Training System (AGTS).

“The unit master gunners and experienced senior noncommissioned officers drilled us over and over,” Dupre said.

Talking about the key role their home unit played in getting them ready, Dupre said, “The crew that you see here today is not just our own doing.”

Adding, “We’ve got guys who know their stuff and have mentored us to get us where we’re at.  I’m really proud of our unit and we’re a culmination of the training we’ve received.”

Prior to the competition, both Dupre’s crew and the 278th ACR crew spent a month training at the Army National Guard’s Warrior Training Center (WTC).

“We were at the WTC for a whole month and all the pre-master gunner course instructors shared so much knowledge with us,” said Sinor, adding, “I’ve learned so much about weapons here that I didn’t know before.”

Sinor said he is looking forward to returning to his home unit to show other soldiers, especially some of the senior NCOs, things they don’t know.

This crew mastered not only the “fully operational” type of engagements with the tank weapon systems, but they further mastered all the “degraded mode” engagements with the weapon systems in preparation for what might be expected as part of the competition.

While tanks are known to have sophisticated fire control systems that greatly enhance tank and machinegun accuracy from both defensive and offensive engagements, tanks are also designed to be fought without the aid of computers, lasers and a host of sensors using manual controls, a basic telescope optic, range estimation and manual firing device.

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1st Lt. John Dupre, left, Sgt. Curtis Bowen and members of their tank crew replace a section of track on an M1A2 Abrams tank during the Sullivan Cup competition at Fort Benning, Georgia.
(Army photo by Sgt 1st Class Jon Soucy)

Training a tank crew to “think alike” and respond to situations where they have to fully utilize the capabilities of the tank fire control system from a defensive fighting position or while in the open on the move is hard, but fighting and winning with a fire control system that is not fully operational or environmentally limited is what separates the professionals from the amateurs. 

Obviously, their training and hard work paid off. Their demonstrated performance on the range reflected their level of training and competency to engage vehicle and personnel targets using multiple weapon systems simultaneously during both day and night fire events.

Exterior cameras on the range, cameras inside the tank turret and in the tank crew’s optics, coupled with an audio monitoring and recording capability allowed tank crew evaluators to assess in great detail every engagement sequence.

Each engagement sequence was scored in accordance with the Army’s tank gunnery manual which included fire commands, crew responses, crew duties, speed of engagement, time visible to the enemy target when firing on the move or from a defensive position, and, of course, tank main gun and machine gun accuracy from the three tank mounted machine guns.

“It takes a lot of heart, a lot of strength and a lot of mental agility,” said Sinor, the tank crew’s loader, while describing what it takes to win the competition.

Sinor was part of a crew who competed two years ago in the Sullivan Cup competition.

“We came into this competition thinking we may know a little of what’s going to go on, but this year they completely rearranged the competition,” said Sinor.

The battle to earn the title of best tank crew in the world consisted of basic and advanced tank skills, maintenance tasks, mounted land navigation, small arms marksmanship and other focused tasks supporting a tank crew’s combat mission.

The final event of the competition is a shoot-off between the top four crews; however, there was a tie this year for fourth, so the shoot-off had five crews jockeying for top honors.

Going into the shoot-off, 1st Battalion, 252nd Armor Regiment, 30th ABCT was in first place; followed by the 2nd place 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd ABCT, 4th Infantry Division; the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in third place; and the 3rd Squadron, 16th Cavalry Brigade and the 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st ABCT, 1st Infantry Division tied for fourth place.

One of the maintenance tasks for the tank crews involved the removal and installation of a section of track.

This crew event required the tank track to be broken apart, a section of the track replaced and then reassembled in less than 45 minutes.

The U.S. Marine Corps was the quickest at this event with an amazing time of less than 30 minutes.

Tank capabilities among the types of tanks in the competition came into discussion among the “gray beards” watching from the sidelines as the Canadian Army pitted the Leopard A2 against the M1A2 (SEP) and M1A1.

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Pfc. Phillip Hill, left, and Spc. Brandon Sinor run with a replacement section of track to be installed on an M1A2 Abrams tank during the Sullivan Cup Competition
(Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy

The M1A2 (SEP) was the newest tank variant in the competition with the added benefit of the Commander’s Independent Thermal Viewer (CITV) providing an additional thermal sight for target acquisition and a target designation capability.  

Both of the U.S. Army National Guard crews, the U.S. Marine Corps crew and the crew from the 11th Armored Cavalry competed in the competition using the older M1A1 tank.

The outcome of the competition demands the respect of the capability of our older tank weapon systems and demonstrates the level of training and the competency of the tank crews to fight their assigned system.

“Being part of a four-man crew, it takes every crew member knowing the exact details of their job and the ins and outs of this tank,” Dupre said.

“My favorite part of being a tanker is just the sheer amount of firepower we bring to the battlefield,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.  We can decisively end battles.  It’s just an awesome piece of machinery.”

Dupre, talking about his tank crew’s plans after they return to Fayetteville, said, “The big thing I’m looking to take from this is that when these guys get home they are better prepared to train their future soldiers.”

Adding, “All these guys have an amazing career ahead of them.  They’re going to be able to work with their peers and make them better and make us better as a whole.”

Observations from many on the ground denoted a remarkable increase in the caliber of the tank crews and the competition as a whole, compared to the Sullivan Cup two years ago.

Gen. Sullivan was on-hand throughout the week-long competition and personally recognized the top three tank crews at the Armor Ball the evening of May 6, 2016.

“Together, the Armor School is answering the demand from the chief to raise the readiness level of the United States Army and everyone involved here at Fort Benning and elsewhere should be very, very proud of what’s gone on here this week,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan added, “I think within two or three more competitions, it will begin to change tank gunnery, certainly in the Army, and it will become more and more competitive.”

Next year the Armor School at Fort Benning, GA will host the Gainey Cup competition from 1-5 May 2017 to recognize the world’s best scout squads.

These professional development events are occurring every day all around the Army and across the Nation.

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