The Army Won't Let Some Crews Name Their Own Tanks

Soldiers conduct maintenance on their M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank.
Soldiers conduct maintenance on their M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks after completing a Table III Gunnery exercise in support of Defender-Europe 20 at Konotop range Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, March 23, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Andres Chandler)

The III Armored Corps, headquartered at Fort Hood, Texas, released a new policy earlier this year restricting which tank crews can name their vehicles.

The policy, which took effect Jan. 23, limits the ability to name tanks to crews who score in the highest bracket during gunnery -- a qualification meant to measure how effective a crew is in combat.

"Naming a fighting platform is a long-standing tradition that we value; we are adding to that tradition by requiring more of ourselves," Lt. Col. Tania Donovan, a spokesperson for III Corps, told over email Wednesday. "Our nation expects nothing less."

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The change in policy is the result of a desire to incentivize crews to perform better during gunnery.

"The III Armored Corps has [an] obligation to our nation to be prepared to fight and win anywhere in the world at any time," Donovan said. "Accordingly, we must demand excellence of ourselves in order to meet that obligation, particularly in our competitive and unpredictable world."

But a currently serving field-grade armor officer, who was granted anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press, told that the policy could further divide the ranks.

"My immediate reaction is that this will alienate junior crews while ensuring that officers get to name their tanks," they said, adding that leaders in officer positions like platoon leader through battalion commander are often given the best gunners.

That leaves other, typically junior troops, working with less experienced gunners who are less likely to score highly during gunnery, although the officer said that they still have a responsibility to do well.

"But to deny them the ability to name their tanks while almost ensuring that [officers] will, due to the experience of their gunner, creates a dichotomous culture that doesn't breed competition, but animosity," they added.

III Corps comprises the bulk of the Army's heavy armor formations with the M1A2 Abrams tank serving as the marquee fighting platform for divisions, including the 1st Cavalry and 1st Armored Divisions.

III Corps’ commander, Lt. Gen. Sean Bernabe, and Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur Burgoyne Jr. are both infantrymen, not tankers or cavalry scouts who are typically tied to the tradition of naming their tanks.

One former tanker currently serving in the Army who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media said that the idea is likely to encourage better maintenance.

"I understand the guidance in the sense that we should really be getting after maintenance and really [be] dedicated to your platform," they said. "So if you truly want to name your tank, you put in the time to do all the effort in maintaining it. … It's such a huge thing for tankers to qualify first time and shoot distinguished and really have a good working tank all the time."

Donovan said that, even if crews qualify distinguished on another crew's tank, they still will not be able to name their own.

"Crews who qualify 'distinguished' on a platform borrowed from a different crew are not authorized to name their platform," Donovan said. "Crews who fail to maintain 'distinguished' qualification will remove their vehicle name during range recovery operations."

The former tanker told that some aspects of maintenance are outside of the crew's control, so not being able to qualify on another tank for gunnery -- and subsequently getting to name your own -- may garner frustration.

"Sometimes, it is tough to qualify off of your own platform because of the maintenance piece -- you can only control so much of maintenance and your tanks will break down," he said.

A veteran who was an active-duty armor officer, and was granted anonymity out of concern that talking to the media could impact career prospects, said the policy is "too restrictive."

"Sounds like a dumb rule that has [command sergeant major] written all over it," they said. "Not that many crews will shoot distinguished, so there will be very few named tanks.

"But tankers really look forward to naming their tank after gunnery. It's something that [the] crew talks about when it's sitting for hours on the firing line, waiting for its turn to shoot," they added.

Crews naming their tanks has been a staple of armor culture going back to World War II, though sometimes names that lean on irreverent humor can earn the ire of senior leaders, with inappropriate monikers garnering media attention.

The former officer pointed to the tradition as an important way for crews to bond, adding that "turnover is a major problem for tank crews. They're being remade all the time. Even if you lose one or two soldiers from your platoon, you usually have to remake your entire crew roster because the [tank commander] and gunner positions can be hard to fill."

"So, any opportunity for crews to bond is important," they added. "Taking away the source of camaraderie that they get from naming their tank is a mistake. But the bottom line is that the policy will change again in two years when there's a new [commanding general] or CSM."

In addition to restricting who can name their tanks, the new policy also addresses some types of names that have drawn attention in the past.

"Vehicle names must be appropriate [in accordance with] the Army Values, connected to the unit's history, and approved by the battalion commander," Donovan said.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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