By Capt. Tobias Cukale | 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division
FORT CARSON, Colo. — The Pikes Peak Chapter of the U.S. Army Brotherhood of Tankers (USABOT) held a homecoming at Fort Carson, and, fittingly, the organization responsible for preserving armor history and heritage attended gunnery tables Oct. 14-16, 2021, with the oldest tank battalion in the Army. Members of USABOT visited Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, as they conducted gunnery Table IV.
Few formations are as small and tightknit as those within the armor branch. With crews of four crammed into the close quarters of an M1 Abrams and platoons half the size of their infantry counterparts, the bonds tankers make with each other are integral to their ability to fight their platforms effectively. Those bonds don’t end after tankers hang up their uniforms, and USABOT strives to maintain those ties between former, retired and active-duty tankers.
“We are the full community, tankers, wrenches (tank mechanics), Gold Star Families, spouses, etc., and we want (everyone) to be involved,” said Retired Lt. Col. Kevin Bolke, USABOT. “This is so important because of the support we bring to the active armor community through moral support, Order of Saint George recognition (and) deployment support. Then following service, we are here providing a known community to belong to and continue to be part of.”
The event helped to continue building that community bond by allowing the members of the brotherhood the opportunity to not only reminisce but to share and build camaraderie with the current 3rd ABCT Soldiers. Bolke even knighted an NCO whom he previously served with.
“All of us have great memories of being on the tank, being on the range and making things happen,” Bolke said. “Sometimes they seem so far back, but then you get out on the range. You see and hear the tanks move and shoot (and) it all comes back to you, and it feels like it was just yesterday. Standing there with (Retired Capt. Mack Azbell, former commander, Ares Company, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd ABCT,) I was again a young company commander. I could see his pride in his company and his tankers, and it made me proud to be connected to them.”
While the visit brought back nostalgia for the members of USABOT in attendance, it also formed new memories for the current Soldiers.
Sgt. Jesse Esparza, a gunner, with Ares Company, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Reg., 3rd ABCT, recounted his most impactful moment of the visit with the widow of a former tank gunner.
“I had the opportunity to show her the gunner’s station and explain what her husband’s role was on the tank,” Esparza said. “As she sat in the gunner’s seat, she began to tear up because it was such an incredibly emotional experience for her to sit where her husband sat in the tanks.”
Many Soldiers were amazed with the interaction between past and present Soldiers.
“The older tankers’ desire to come back and interact with new tankers really impressed me,” said Staff Sgt. Rojae Fraire, a tank commander with Ares Company, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Reg., 3rd ABCT. “These guys never lost touch with the armor community because it was more than a job to them — it’s a culture.”
With a dedicated community founded in the close quarters of the tank turret, it’s no wonder why armor veterans are fond of calling their time on tanks “The Best Job I Ever Had.”