“When you need a tank, nothing else will suffice,” said Marine Corp Major Ronald “JR” Valasek. He was referencing the Corp’s 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 aren’t pleased with the decision. “We are small and we are all really cut from the same cloth,” Valasek said. As an armor officer, he has expressed how tankers are a close-knit community of warriors. “I will always be a tanker.”
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.
“It hurts seeing that [tank] ramp empty. Oh, it hurts. I’ve been trying to hold it together all week.” A 17-year Marine Corps veteran, Valasek told him it’s 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.
“This day has been coming for … 30 years,” said Chris Juhls, a retired gunnery sergeant. “It just so happens it’s now, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
When Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger constructed his vision of the Corps’ 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, it’s one of those things you keep hoping will happen next year, and then next year, and then…
Especially after getting caught up in some horrendous bloody battles in Fallujah, Iraq, Valasek said “tanks were an absolute necessity.” 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 wouldn’t get anyway. So as is the Marine Corps’ way, they’ll handle things themselves.
Still, Valasek has full confidence in Berger’s decision. He knows it was not made lightly. The idea is to convert the Corps’ 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 it’s specifically needed. Many times the timing needs to be precise.
“I really fear the day that a future Marine finds himself in a bind and looks around because he needs a tank and there isn’t one there to help him,” Grazier said.
But being fully aware of how different combat situations call for different strategies, many of the tankers are convinced they’ll 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, “Just because our equipment’s going away, our brotherhood’s not. It will never die. Our stories will continue through our kids … until tanks come back.”