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Tankers pull the plug on Republican Guard
by Crista Walker, PAO Staff


Leading the Spearhead Division into battle, tankers of the M1A1, C 24, Charlie Co., 4th. Bn., 8th Cav. had a head full of steam as they rolled into Iraq, charging for an armored showdown with elements of the Republican Guard.

When their 120mm gun broke into Iraqi territory, members of C 24 didn't leave the infamous "double berm" in a veil of dust without a few questions about the first real action they would ever see. The next three whirlwind days spent in Iraq would show these four men a 100-hour war that would live in their minds forever.

While in combat, events could not have been more diverse for the M1A1 crew out of Gelnhausen, Germany. During the swift, massive battle they managed to become involved in an "almost impossible" brigade-size maneuver. They poured a massive number of rounds down range, survived an Iraqi artillery and mortar barrage and used innovative methods of navigation in addition to firing up unsuspecting Iraqi "elite" Republican Guard troops. As the battle came to a close, Iraqis came out in scores to surrender, blowing kisses all the while to their captors.

The crew - consisting of 2nd Lt. Jeffrey Briecic, tank commander; Sgt. Car-los Lopez, gunner; Spec. Brian Rozzo, driver; and Pfc. Melvin Todd, loader - first made contact with enemy troops in the early hours of Feb. 25. "After the scouts reported contact with a BRDM (a Soviet troop carrier used by Iraqi forces), we came up to about 2,000 meters and my wingman began identifying the same targets. The Iraqis couldn't see us," said Briecic, 26, who then maneuvered his tank and platoon into battle.

The unsuspecting Iraqis were overwhelmed with 4/8 Cav's daylong fire. Most surrendered, but some tried to escape in an Iraqi BMP - an armored personnel carrier. That's when the crew of C 24 launched its own assault on the Republican Guard.

"In the first engagement, when they didn't know we were there, we all cheered. We were shaking each other's hands in the tank, because it was the first time we ever threw a big bullet at an enemy vehicle and actually did some damage," said Briecic, who's tank engaged eight vehicles.

"It was pretty scary at first, throwing the first round in the tube, letting it go off," commented Pfc. Todd, a 21-year-old Peoria, 111., native. "There were so many hot spots out there, it was unbelievable." Spec. Rozzo agreed. "Air Bursts were going off all around. There were definitely some fireworks going on out there," said the 21-year-old from Pittsburgh.

They were still engaging in the late afternoon when an Iraqi mortar barrage thundered down on the battalion. They maneuvered until the battalion was on line, where they again hammered rounds down range.

"When the artillery and mortars started coming in, it started to get a little hairy. It was the first time we had ever been under enemy fire, so we got a little nervous," said Briecic. "But what was really unique was -within seconds - the tank, the platoon and the company molded together, all as a unit, and we made things happen."

That night, for instance, C 24's crew was part of 2nd Brigade's much-talked-about right-hand turn while in contact. An unprecedented maneuver. "It's almost impossible. The books say don't do it. But our commanders decided to and we turned the whole brigade to the right while in contact, which is unbelievable," Briecic stated. Speaking in smaller terms, Rozzo continued. "It's something you never see. A battalion on line is like a 5 kilometer wide line. It's wide."

As they came out of their 90-degree turn, crewmen of C 24 were tasked with getting the battalion on the right azimuth. Surprised and puzzled, Briecic reacted. "I'm standing on my tank with no compass that works on this big chunk of metal. So I jumped off my tank, and went about 20 meters off, got an azimuth meter and drew a line in the dirt."

Briecic then had Lopez traverse the gun barrel to the line, after which he centered the catalacs. "Once you engage the catalacs, the tube will stay on that line."

Emerging the forerunner in the lead platoon, C 24's crew again encountered enemy activity. Briecic recalled, "My wing man started identifying vehicles from 600 to 2,000 meters in front of us; then the other section was identifying vehicles. So, as soon as 3rd Platoon was brought forward, all hell broke loose."

"We were firing up enemy troops from probably six o'clock that night until about three that morning, and we poured about 5,000 rounds of 7.62 millimeter out of this tank alone." Lopez then gave his tank a pat on the turret for a job well done.

"After going 48 hours without sleep, we just about passed out from exhaustion," according to Briecic. Just as they began to drift off, the sunrise was upon them, and the dark smoke of the battle cleared. The men rubbed the sleep from their eyes to see that they were approximately 200 meters away from enemy vehicles.

"We saw little guys poking their hands out first and then they stood up waving white flags," Briecic laughed. "As the prisoners were walking by, they were blowing kisses to the tanks and crews."

It was then that Todd felt his proudest moment of the war. "There were close to a hundred guys surrendering that morning. It was really cool, we were just flagging them back to the MP, waving them by. It was a good feeling."

Crew members of C 24 spent the remainder of the day scanning and watching as their fellow troops were taking prisoners. Later that afternoon, 3rd Brigade passed through 2nd Brigade and took the lead for the division, giving bat-· tie-weary troops a chance to recover. The following day, Feb. 27, at 8 a.m.. President Bush announced the cease-fire.

Briecic, who his crew affectionately calls "our fearless leader," summed up his emotions by saying that his crew was under an abundance of stress throughout the ordeal, but they handled themselves with courage and pride. "I couldn't be more proud of my guys," he beamed. "We clicked and we made things happen that back in peacetime training would have been all screwed up; but here, under enemy fire, the training paid off. We came together and we executed without flaw. Teamwork was the key to the success of it. It was just picture-book perfect."

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