By Crystal Farris,
Idaho Army National Guard
BOISE, Idaho – Polish soldiers attended Idaho National Guard M1 Abrams tank training in October and November to observe best practices as Polish Land Forces seek to develop their own training capability.
The Polish military — a U.S. ally, NATO member and official state partner of the Illinois National Guard — wants to buy a fleet of M1A2 SEPv3 tanks and is working through the State Department and the Department of Defense to identify opportunities to partner in armor crewmember training.
The Illinois National Guard and the Republic of Poland enjoy an enduring relationship under the State Partnership Program focused on professional military education, crisis management and response and operational training and combat deployments. However, the Illinois National Guard does not operate the M1 tank, so the Idaho National Guard is assisting.
The Idaho Army National Guard’s 204th Regional Training Institute at Gowen Field specializes as an armor training schoolhouse, delivering curriculum to U.S. military armor students. During the visit, schoolhouse instructors and armor experts provided training and insight for Polish soldiers.
“The 1st of the 204th Armored Training Battalion is the only National Guard battalion that teaches a full catalog of armored training courses,” said Maj. Noah Siple, commander. “We are credentialed to be the premier armored training battalion of the National Guard. Couple that with our Orchard Combat Training Center and our ranges for armor-specific training, there is really no better place to go to.”
The battalion has provided armored training since the 1980s and offers various 19D and 19K courses, including a tank commander’s course and advanced leadership course. A portion of the curriculum requires students to train in the 143,000-acre OCTC, one of the country’s largest and most versatile maneuver training sites, about 25 miles south of Boise.
Polish officers and warrant officers serving in various positions, including chief of planning and programming; logistician and fires experts; and company level officers, attended the battalion’s 19K transition course.
Soldiers also attending the course from the Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Texas National Guards had the opportunity to interface with the Polish soldiers before graduating Nov. 22.
The 27-day course is designed for enlisted members in the ranks of sergeant and staff sergeant. The platoon-level coursework provides training in the technical and tactical skills to employ the M1A1 SA MTB or M1A2 SEP tank against enemy positions during unified land operations.
While Poland operates the T-72 and P-91 tanks, the M1A1 and M1A2 offers an array of operational differences and capabilities, said Sgt. 1st Class Lucas Kaserman, the 19K transition course manager.
“We integrated the Polish soldiers as much as possible into the training course to give them many of the same opportunities we give our U.S. students,” said Kaserman. “They already have a familiarity with tanks, which was helpful. However, the M1 is a different kind of tank with a lot of new things to learn.”
Throughout the course, Polish members took turns rotating through the driver, loader, gunner and commander crew stations; participated in tank simulators where they operated as both tank commander and gunner while engaging simulated targets; and conducted live-fire familiarization in the OCTC, where they fired different weapon systems of the tank, including an M240 and .50-caliber machine gun.
They also spent time with course experts and senior leaders of the Idaho Army National Guard, including its 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, an M1 tank unit, to discuss best practices in implementing their own armor training course once returning to Poland.
“They came here to experience first-hand training with the M1A2 SEPv2 Abrams tank and to understand how we train and construct courses for Soldiers becoming tankers in the U.S. military,” said Siple. “Not only did they have that opportunity and are leaving here with lived experience to implement their own training, but they also got to engage and build relationships with all elements of the Idaho Army National Guard to continue building those capabilities in the future.”
In November, senior leaders from the Polish Land Forces and Illinois National Guard visited Idaho to observe course training and what the 1-204th RTI offers. The visitors had the opportunity to tour some of the Idaho Army National Guard’s facilities, equipment and its OCTC, in addition to engaging with Idaho’s leadership and armor experts.