As I sat in the driver’s seat of the M1A2 Abrams tank, I had an almost overwhelming feeling of what the French call ‘Deja view,’ literally: I’m sitting in a tank. The feeling was caused by the fact that, as I looked around at the various knobs and switches an M1 driver uses to control the tank, I had found the one labeled ‘Push to Start.’ It took every ounce of will power I could scrape up to keep from cranking that baby up and taking it for a spin. I finally managed to crawl out of the tank without starting it up by using the same reasoning I used recently at NAS Kingsville to keep from pulling the ejection handle on a T-45 Goshawk I sat in. Basically: I don’t want to go to jail. The tank was sitting at the north end of Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas. It belongs to the Army National Guard, and I had just watched some Guard members load it on a Super HET, and then unload it again. HET stands for Heavy Equipment Transport, which is a relatively new method of hauling tanks around. It replaces the old trucks the army used to use, which are known, in technical terms, as ‘the old trucks the army used to use.’ The reason I was sitting in an M1 tank at North Fort Hood was because the sheriff of Fredericksburg, Texas, was busy. Since he was unable to attend ‘Employer’s Day,’ I got to take his place. What happened was that my friend, Gordon ‘Gordo’ Gipson, who used to be a Marine, called me up and asked me if I’d like to come to Fort Hood and see what he does during his two week summer ‘vacation’ with the Guard. The ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve) Program transports the employers of National Guardspersons to the field where their employees are training. The employers spend a day with the troops, and get to find out what goes on during the two weeks of summer training. Gordo is a Fredericksburg police officer, and his sheriff had planned to attend, but then something came up, and he was unable to go. Gordo called me and asked if I would be interested in taking his place, and I nearly blew his eardrum out saying YES! The other attendees and I met at the Fredericksburg airport, where we boarded a plane called a C-23B+, commonly known as a Shorts 360 (I have no idea why). Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jim Jackson and Sergeant First Class Michael Price explained to me that the plane was made in Ireland, by a company so old that they used to do contract work for the Wright Brothers. Really. The plane, which seats about twenty people, resembles a huge refrigerator packing crate with wings. After a 38 minute flight to the Temple airport, where we met Gordo and some other National Guardsmen, we were loaded onto a bus for the trip to North Fort Hood. The first order of business was watching M1 tanks being loaded onto and unloaded from their transports. Guardspeople don’t normally spend all their time loading and unloading tanks; they were doing it mainly for our benefit. What a swell bunch of folks. The M1A2 Abrams tank weighs 62 tons, so you don’t just drive one onto your average flatbed trailer and haul it off. The Super HET is a $200,000 piece of high tech, stud muffin truckhood. The trailer alone sports 40 wheels, in five ranks of eight. The rear three axles turn in the opposite direction that the front wheels on the tractor are turned, so that the truck doesn’t have to make wide turns, and can be maneuvered into fairly tight places. The main weapon on the Abrams is its 120 mm cannon, which can shoot a very large projectile a very long way, and it can do so extremely accurately, even while the tank and its target are both moving along at a pretty good clip. The sergeant explaining the tank to us probably gave a more detailed description of the capabilities of the M1A2, but I wasn’t paying attention. Sorry. I wasn’t paying attention because I was busy crawling into the driver’s seat of the tank, which is no mean feat. A contortionist would have had trouble getting in there. But once in, the seat was quite comfortable, and the controls were all very handy. Almost too handy to be ignored, especially for a guy with an overpowering urge to fiddle with things. But we had already been informed that merely cranking up the Abrams uses six gallons of fuel, so I realized that it is not exactly a Toyota in relation to its fuel efficiency. Of course, most Toyotas don’t carry 700 gallons of fuel. (A tank needs a big tank) After we got done playing in the M1 (I cranked up the stereo and turned the wipers on, so the next time the driver started it up . . . ) we were bussed to another area, where we watched some Guardsmen from Austin drive some trucks through an obstacle course that Gordo had set up. We couldn’t watch this exciting episode for long, however, because by then it was time for dinner (the noon meal, for you non-Texans). We went to a sort of command post area, where First Sergeant Sammy Segner passed out MREs, the army’s version of food. MRE stands for Meal, Ready to Eat, which could apply to just about anything organic, depending on how picky you are, and how hungry. To be honest, MREs are pretty good, and contain everything a soldier needs for a meal in the field, including Tabasco sauce and toilet paper. I had Beef Teryaki, which turned out to be downright tasty. After dinner our bus driver, SFC Johnson, showed us a ROWPU, which stands for Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (pronounced ‘rope you’). This machine, mounted on a trailer, and about the size of a foreign car, is what the troops in the field use to purify the local ground water and make it drinkable. It was designed to purify salt water, so if the water in an area can be sucked into the ROWPU, no matter how nasty it is when it goes in, it comes out clean. You can have the first drink. I insist. Before heading back to Temple we made a detour by Gordo’s barracks. The Guard Unit from Fredericksburg, of which Gordo is a large part, usually stays in tents in the field, but this year they lived almost like normal people. Gordo’s bunk, I’m embarrassed to report, was a little wrinkly, but one of my other Fredericksburg NG friends, Marcel Hertel, better known as Fritz, had his made up according to regulations. I thought he was going to start whimpering when I lay down on it, but he managed to refrain. All in all it was a fun day, and I highly recommend that all you high school and college age people rush right over to your nearest National Guard Recruiting Station and join up. You’ll get a nice, camouflage suit, shiny boots, and weekend camping trips in the country, not to mention a two week vacation every summer. Best of all, you don’t even have to leave your home state, so you can drink the water. Go ahead. Really, the water is fine. I’m just not thirsty . Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist with his own canteen. Write to him at PO Box 564, Mason, Texas 76856 or hemphill @ctesc.net

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