Ramblin' Man: A ride not soon to be forgotten

October 11, 2013 Updated: October 11, 2013 at 11:08 pm
Caption +
A M-1 Abrams tank moves down range during the 1st Brigade's 7th Squadron of the 10th Cavalry Regiment's live fire exercise Monday, June 4, 2012, during training down range at Fort Carson. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

In this parking lot, everything is brown.

Brown wheels. Brown doors.

Brown turrets. Brown armor.

Brown cannons.

These aren't exactly fashionable colors. They call it desert tan.

I call it desert drab.

But then, you won't see these vehicles at a car show.

They are more utilitarian in a deadly, killing kinda way.

They're tanks.

They weigh around 70 tons and seat four, and they drive over cars.

To a tank, that Hummer you drive because it makes you feel macho is a subcompact. It would make a crunching noise, like biting into a hard taco.

Couple of weeks ago, I got a brief ramble (more like a rumble) on an M1 Abrams at Fort Carson, where about 60 of them live as part of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team.

I rode on top, where the loader stands.

Sgt. Clayton Wilkerson, armor crewman from Louisville, Ky., was the tank commander. He stood next to me in constant contact with the driver.

In the tank's belly, the driver was armor crewman Spc. Christopher Locke, from Burton, Mich.

It was a ride built on adrenalin. Even the public affairs guy, Staff Sgt. Henry W. Marris III, was jazzed.

It's an amazingly smooth ride, considering the type of terrain tanks like to roll around in.

We were on a pretty rough dirt road, but not for nothing is this tank called a Cadillac when compared with other Army vehicles, Wilkerson said.

We chatted by way of the tank's communication system, voices rattling in the ear while the tank flowed down the road.

These guys live on the tank, spending 10 hours and more on it at a time.

Wilkerson's favorite resting spot is above the turbine, where it stays warm at night.

Locke, in the driver's seat, is in the most comfortable and most protected part of the tank.

He's practically laying down, La-Z-Boy style, in front behind a couple of feet of armor.

He guides the tank with handlebars, similar to motorcycle or bicycle.

He sees the world through a relatively small window, though, and relies on Wilkerson to help with traffic when we crossed roads.

Seemed to me, cars would stop seeing a tank approaching.

Apparently not all of them.

"You would be surprised how many drivers out here think they can beat a tank," Wilkerson said.

At one intersection, Wilkerson cautioned Locke about an oncoming Fed Ex truck. Locke rolled to a stop.

The truck took forever, which brought out some grumpiness about having to wait.

Come ahn. Come ahn. Geez.

The thing is, to these guys, driving a tank is no big deal.

It's as if they were us, driving our cars to get groceries.

But they're not.

Wilkerson has had four tours in Iraq. Locke is looking forward to his first.

To ride a tank is to step into another world of transportation.

These are vehicles designed to withstand the worst the world has to offer.

The air tastes different. Sounds seem clearer. There is a feel that is indescribable.

Rolling as you are over terrain, a cannon jutting into the sky, the whine of the turbine that you can actually feel in your spine.

This tank, Wilkerson said, "is the most effective killing machine in the world."

"Tell you the truth, it makes me feel kinda BA," he said.

For one tiny period of my life, me too.

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