By: Ken Osborne
Sean Provart and Ozzy take Crazy Train without a lot of permission.
In April of 1989, I was about three months short of getting out. I had been offered sergeant stripes if I agreed to extend my enlistment for a few months, but I was just about done with the Army at that point. I was the company armorer for my tank company, Charlie, 1-64 Armor Battalion, 24th Infantry Division stationed at Fort Stewart Georgia, just about 30 minutes west of Savannah.
We were training at the US Army’s National Training Center (NTC) outside of Barstow, California, in a huge war game exercise that the American tank battalions go through every two years. In Germany, we trained in these exercises at a place called Hohenfels and Grafenwohr Germany four times a year. We flew from Georgia to California in a can of whoop-ass, a C-130, but that is another story.
Crazy Train was known as the tank with the two Specialist 4s (Spec 4s… now known as simply a Specialist). A Spec 4 is essentially as high you can go as an enlisted person before becoming a non-commissioned officer. Infantry units have corporals, but tanks have specialists. The reason is that the four man crew must always have enlisted men to do the grunt work. Specialists don’t really care, are VERY good at their job, and just want to be left alone until 5pm rolls around so they can run to the bar, drink beer and find women. (That didn’t ever happen, but we thought if we kept trying eventually we would meet someone hot that just love to meet tankers.) I REALLY wanted to meet Heather Locklear. I went to BASIC and then served on a tank for a short periods of time with her first cousin, Kenny Locklear. He didn’t look anything like her, FYI. I’m still irritated that she didn’t fly over to Germany to visit us.
Crazy Train, Charlie 22 tank, would always break down. This allowed the sergeants to jump off the tank and onto another one to continue to learn from the exercises. We would usually sit in place for a few days while the parts were located for whatever the hell we broke. Very relaxing time. I think that Provart’s ex-wife used to read Jackie Collins books. They were popular in an era where digital iPads, phones and even computers didn’t really exist. (We would wire the old cassette Walkman into our radio system so we could listen to music while going downrange and firing all the weapon systems).
The Jackie Collins books were VERY popular. We would just pass the books from tank to tank within our platoon. Really good reading. And who would make fun of a bunch of tankers that really didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought? I’m just going to say for the record, she writes some steamy stuff! We weren’t ever into porn mags. The guys that were into Playboy were usually the young kids in the unit that had just left home for the first time. They got kinda crazy with the freedom of being away from home and access to all the things you couldn’t do in high school or at mom and dad’s house. It was interesting.
Eventually the mechanics drug our tank back to the rear where the headquarters company was set up. It was basically the place where all the ammo, fuel, food, showers (which we never saw) is stored. The mechanics set up a temporary shop to work on broke dick tanks (yeah, that is what we called anything that didn’t work…broke dick)
Our tank was drug to the maintenance area, in the middle of the California desert at about 110 degrees. We smelled bad and didn’t really care. As soon as we put our tank put into a defensive defilade, we jumped into action. We had a system down so that our tank looked like a gypsy tent somewhere in the mid-east. I would shut the tank down, pull myself out of the driver’s hole, while Provart did whatever the hell he did. Usually it involved stealing from the other tanks and rear echelon soldiers. The REMFs, as we like to call them, were living the dream. Showers every day, clean uniforms and it all just pissed us off. At one point we got the tank running enough to drive about a mile away to the showers. We parked the tank right out front, ignored everyone who started telling us to move the tank, and took showers. CSM knew we were great soldiers, and when the rear detachment complained to them, he basically told them to pound sand. I still can remember Provart screaming at me as he was running from the field kitchen area about 100 yards away. The guy was 6’4” and weighed about 160 pounds soaking wet. Here he comes, running as fast as he can with two boxes of A rations (the really good food that the cooks heat up and serve to the troops). He came running as fast as he could, threw me the boxes of food, and I quickly hid them somewhere inside the tank. Probably the ammo rack behind the tank commander since it is a bitch to open and find hidden goodies. A few minutes passed before the kitchen crew started bitching about the tankers taking all the food from the kitchen… Eh, screw it. We were hungry.
We would immediately throw up camo netting above our tank, and make
sure we had a covered area that provided shade. We always pulled the tarp over the side so that we could have a poker room to play next to the tank. We also would catch scorpions and have scorpion races and fights. I can’t remember who won or lost money, but I am sure I didn’t come home with any cash.
One day the mechanics had put a new engine in Crazy Train. They told us to take it out a few hundred yards and see how she did. I could accelerate then decelerate and then accelerate in rapid succession. This caused the entire system to fail and shut down. If I didn’t do that, the tank ran fine. I just didn’t want to play war anymore and was so close to going home that I could smell it.
We took all the tarps and netting down, and hopped in for a ride. Provart hopped in the TC hatch and I took off. We headed out of our AO (area of operation) and found a tank trail. Now there are three kinds of roads in a training area. Tank trails set aside for the armor and military equipment, the base highway and then the occasional California Highway that passed through.
The tank trail was kinda bumpy and dusty. I always wore an OD Green dew rag to cover my face. If I didn’t, I would look like I had just jumped into a mud puddle. The dirt was so thick from the tank throwing up dust that you couldn’t see more than 20 feet. I decided that we needed to go faster in order to avoid the dust. We were only supposed to be gone a few minutes, but we were bored.
The tank trail paralleled the state highway. I told Provart that I was going to take the tank on the highway and see how fast we can get her going. I knew guys who served at Ft. Hood and also Ft. Knox that were on the initial M1 testing teams. They had both said that they could get the 65 ton M1IP tank that we were driving well over 100 mph. I was sure I could beat that.
I crossed over onto the highway and hit the gas. We were literally hauling ass… both of our asses.. I had the tank up to almost 70 mph (with a governor on the engine) before a brilliant set of MPs pulled their HUMMV onto the highway to block the road. This is where my experience as a tank driver came in. If you hit the brakes at that speed, it would have ripped both tracks off, and we would have continued at full speed. I could have easily demolished their cute little police car. I slammed on the brakes and sent Provart into his machine gun. Not bad, but enough for a bruise. I came to a quick stop as the front of the tank dropped about 12 inches while coming to a complete stop. I told Provart to tell the MPs that we were just lost. Our unit had just arrived from Georgia and we didn’t know the rules. Just because we had a tank, outside of the training area and were on a public highway didn’t mean we knew what we were doing!!!!
Provart hopped down from the tank, and in perfect Provart fashion, bullshitted them into thinking we were just a bunch of dumb ass tankers (DATs). They let us go with a warning and showed us all of the tank trails so we knew the difference. Thanks guys!
We turned around and got back to our AO about an hour later. Nobody missed us, and if they did, we were just testing the new engine. Seemed to work out alright.
We set up the camo netting again, and got the machine guns all ready for a surprise visits from the Opposition Forces. They used Huey helicopters that were modified and painted to look like the Soviet HIND-Ds. We shot the hell out of them. I think we killed three, and eventually they stopped trying to attack our rear detachment. Crazy Train became famous for protecting the 1-64 field headquarters from attack by the choppers. They weren’t expecting us and they CERTAINLY didn’t expect to have us fully operational with MILES gear (Laser tag on steroids). We would go steal all of the ammo that the REMFs weren’t using. They didn’t want to get their machine guns dirty, so we took all their ammo and shot the hell out of anything we say that looked like it wasn’t on our team. (Sorry about that Sergeant Major! Next time radio ahead that you are coming for a visit!)
Crazy Train Delta, OUT!