Sgt. Tyler Stuck, 25, a member of Eastern Oregonís Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, Oregon Army National Guard, guides an M1A2-SEP tank off of a railcar at the Orchard Training Area south of Boise, Idaho. (Pat Caldwell/For The Observer
3rd Battalion moving tanks to Idaho training area for July exercise
ORCHARD TRAINING AREA, Idaho — Guiding 70 tons of steel and several million dollars worth of high-tech gadgetry off a narrow railroad car on the high desert carries the potential to make anyone nervous.
Yet, Sgt. Tyler Stuck said he isn’t worried.
Stuck, along with a dozen other Oregon Army National Guard troopers from Eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, gathered at the vast Orchard Training Area south of Boise to complete a single job: Unload a dozen or more M1A2-SEP Abrams main battle tanks in preparation for the 3rd Battalion’s annual training cycle in July.
Stuck’s task Tuesday was critical. Along with several other Guardsmen, he helped guide the big battlewagons off Union Pacific flat-bed train cars at the Orchard Training Area railhead.
Stuck, who is a member of Ontario’s Charlie Company, 3-116th, said his task carries plenty of stress. He must ensure that each tank negotiates off the narrow railcars and on to the large, cement loading dock at the railhead.
“That’s 70 tons sitting there,” Stuck said.
Stuck was not the only guide for the tanks. The dozen Guardsmen from across Eastern Oregon each rotated the job. While one Guardsman directed a big tank off the rail cars, several others stood by and served as guides on the ground next to the rail cars. The whole process was a carefully orchestrated operation, Stuck said.
“That driver in the tank is really depending upon me to make sure I don’t drive him off the rail car. That tank is $4 million roughly,” Stuck said.
Stuck said he takes the stress in stride.
“I’m good with it. Just another day on the job,” he said.
First Lt. Brian Fike of Portland said the operation to unload the tanks occurs inside a bubble of safety.
“Safety is big. We do a daily safety brief. In a sense it is straightforward but in the end it’s all about safety,” said Fike, who is the second in command of the Ontario Guard unit.
Maj. Joseph Lundell of La Grande, operations officer for the battalion, said the formula to unload the tanks takes a great deal of planning.
“Months of preparation go into executing this operation. There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to rail movements. We have tie-down teams, drivers, ground guides and fuelers to name just a few,” he said. “During the whole process safety is our number one concern. Before all operations we complete a risk management worksheet to ensure we are covering all safety aspects of the operation.”
Fike said the procedure to unload the new tanks is really the first phase of the 3rd Battalion’s annual training cycle that opens in early July. For almost a year, Fike said, citizen-soldiers of the Ontario unit — and other outfits in the battalion — worked at the Umatilla Army Depot to learn the new SEP tank.
July’s annual training period, Fike said, will be a critical time for the tankers in the 3rd Battalion. At annual training, 3rd Battalion troopers will be tested on their knowledge of the new SEP tank.
“Basically annual training will be like a final exam,” he said.
The 3rd Battalion, which consists of Guard units from Woodburn, Hood River, The Dalles, Hermiston, Pendleton, La Grande, Baker City and Ontario, is the only National Guard unit in the nation to receive the new M1A2-SEP tank.