FORT BLISS, Texas – I was riding in a government SUV down the dirt roads of the large training ground at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.
My guides were two Army public affairs officers. A large military exercise called Bulldog Focus, which involved the entire 3rd Brigade of the 1st Armoured Division, was underway.
The wind was sharp, the sun was bright – and I could see for miles, all the way to the surrounding mountains.
The sandy training grounds covered so many square miles that you would have never guessed tanks and troops were scattered around. Only the dust signatures kicking up in the distance from small convoys manoeuvring here and there may have given it away.
We then came across two Abrams tanks and its crews – a total of eight soldiers.
They had been out in the desert for several days, sleeping in or outside of the tank, and eating only MREs. But they were nevertheless upbeat, and gladly showed me around their two war vehicles.
Here’s what I saw:
We found the M1A2 Abrams in the middle of the desert, surrounded by mountains.
Here’s what the Abrams looked like as I got closer.
Approved for production in 1990, the M1A2 weighs 71.2 tons. Its main gun is the 120mm XM256 smooth bore cannon, but it’s also equipped with an M2 Browning .50 calibre machine gun and two M240 7.62mm machine guns.
The tank, however, was not fitted with its typical reactive armour tiles along the side.
Check out a side shot of the cannon.
After showing me around the dusty inside, which I was not allowed to photograph, the crew rotated the turret, which was incredibly quiet, seen and heard in the short video below.
I then jumped on top of the tank, straddling the gun to get a barrel view.
The tankers weren’t firing the guns that day, but this is what it would look like if they did.
Here’s a close-up of the 120mm cannon.
Although they wouldn’t let me take pictures, the crew let me sit inside the tank. But this is what it looks like inside.
I got on top of the tank for this shot of the cannon and .50 Calibre machine gun from the back.
And got to experience a gunner’s view of the 7.62 mm gun.
I then jumped down and got a shot of the 7.62mm gun from below.
As well as a shot of the .50 Calibre.
The soldiers told me that, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, they aren’t allowed to fire the .50 at enemy soldiers – only vehicles.
But the 7.62mm gun is fair game.
Here’s the L8A1 six-barrel smoke grenade discharger, which they can use to create defensive smoke screens.
Here’s a close-up of the tracks.
Check out what they do to the sand.
The Abrams 1500 HP gas turbine engine can bring the tank up to 42 mph, and 30 mph over rough terrain.
Abrams tanks each have four people in their crew.
They let look me take a look at the helmets they wear, equipped with built-in radios.
Here’s Spc. Leyba sitting in the tank commander’s position behind the .50 calibre machine gun.
It’s a pretty awesome machine.
Other Abrams and Bradley convoys drove down the road from time to time, allowing me to see the dust signatures firsthand.
We then jumped back in the SUV and drove around looking for more vehicles and soldiers.