'Panther' soldiers win 2014 Sullivan Cup best tank crew competition

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Sullivan Cup Competition pits the best tanks crews across different branches of service and nationalities against one another in a grueling, weeklong physical and mental challenge.

The payoff – to be named the best tank crew.

The competition is named for Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., president of the Association of the United States Army and the 32nd Army chief of staff.

On May 15, "Panther" soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, took their place in front of their peers and leaders as they were named the victors of this year’s event.

The team consisted of Sgt. 1st Class James A. Grider, tank commander; Sgt. Kevin Luu, gunner; Spc. Benjamin D. Whiteman, loader; and Pfc. Thomas Carter, driver.

They are assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment.

This is the first time these soldiers participated in the 2014 Sullivan Cup Competition.

The competition, May 12 to 15, Fort Benning, Ga., featured crews from various U.S. Army divisions, the National Guard, the U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Royal Army.

Each four-man team cycled through events including a physical challenge; adjusting and aligning the tank’s sites; gunnery and offense and defensive maneuvering on the Closed Combat Tactical Trainer, where they received points based on their time, precision and ability to complete the event.

While the ideal situation would allow teams to devote their time purely to training for the event weeks, if not months, before competition, the winning team said they just didn’t have that.

"Outside of the event, we still had a mission to do," said Grider, a Fort Worth, Texas, native.

Adding, "We knew we would be the team competing a few months prior, but there was a period of three weeks where we were doing gunnery with our company. The guys were studying in between breaks, but I would say we only had a few solid weeks dedicated to training for the competition."

What seemed like a setback may have actually worked in the team’s interest. Grider said because they had recently completed gunnery with the company, the team was able to focus on physical training, the mental aspect of the competition and the core tanker competencies of functioning as an armor crew member.

"The first day was the most physically exhausted I have been after just one day," Grider said.

He added, "The physical challenge was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but one of the most gratifying."

Luu, Whiteman and Carter agreed that the physical demands of the event, coupled with the Georgia heat and humidity, made for a challenging day.

"The ammo re-load and the track shuffle were probably the worst to have to do. We were just smoked," said Whiteman, of Townsend, Delaware.

Despite never having participated in a Sullivan Cup Competition before, Grider, Luu and Whiteman have been in their profession for a number of years.

For Carter, however, this was perhaps the biggest challenge he would face in his 12 months in the service, but he never looked at it as a disadvantage.

"I don’t think being the youngest team member has been a disadvantage at all. My job is the driver, and I have been doing that job since the day I got to the unit last summer," explained Carter, of Lynn, Massachusetts.

Carter’s job is to provide a smooth ride and stable firing platform form, Grider said. "He did a great job of it, too."

Grider credits the team’s win to the soldiers’ professionalism, knowledge and teamwork.

"Crew cohesion is the most important part," said Grider.

Adding, "These guys execute the work. I’m talking, but they are setting it up and pulling the trigger.

"No one person can win this cup. It would be impossible."

The team said they were grateful for the continued support from the command team, from company to brigade-level.

Luu, of Tioga, New York, said the support helped push the team at each event.

"We would come off of a bad run and think it was the end of us, but you had the brigade commander, Colonel [Charles] Costanza, out there smiling and telling us ‘you got it.’ It’s great to have that support," said Grider. "They would always let us know we were good enough.

"Good enough was never less than winning the trophy and that’s exactly what we did."

(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article written by Staff Sgt. Lindsey Kibler.)