48 Years on Tanks: GRIC Veteran Returns Home

Submitted by
Joey R. Whitman 


On April 30,1975, South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese. In school, I thought about what I would do after graduating high school. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be a soldier; I didn’t want to stay home on the reservation; to me, there was no future here.


So my mind was made up, I would follow my brothers, Jewel (Army-Vietnam), Franklin (Marine Corp-Okinawa), Malcolm (Germany), and Leander (Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri), on May 31, 1975, I, Joey Richard Whitman, Entered the Armed Forces of the United States. (Army). 


I reported to Fort Polk, Louisiana. 1st Brigade, 4th Battalion, F – Company, Where I was trained for Basic Training to become a soldier and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) to be an infantryman (11 bravo).


I remember we trained as if we were going to retake Vietnam—that was drilled into our heads. After I graduated from AIT, I remained at Fort Polk. I reported to the 5th Infantry Division (Red Diamond), 12th Cavalry 1st Squadron A Troop.


As the 5th Infantry Division formed, I was told I would report to another unit: 3rd Battalion 77th Armor, B Company, where I would be trained to be a “TANKER.” I was trained to drive, load, and fire the main gun (105 mm) on an M60A1 Patton Tank.


I thought, “This is AWESOME!” I wanted to see what a tank could do and feel the engines and main gun’s power when it was fired.


We trained on tactics and tank gunnery to qualify the tank crew. We prepared to fight and kill Russians and soldiers of the Warsaw Pact. We were taught how to identify their tanks, the T-62 and T55, their light vehicles, the BRDM and MTLB, and other vehicles and aircraft. I learned a term called the COLD WAR.


The countries of the Warsaw Pact, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungry, Poland, and Romania, led by the Soviet Union, were communist. If they wanted to extend communism, they would attack Europe and fight against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).


The Cold War is when the United States and the Soviet Union faced off without shooting at each other. If they did, each Country had enough weapons to kill millions of people in a few seconds.


I remember in school, if there was ever a bright flash during class, we were told to get under our desks and, if it was outside, to fall to the ground and cover our heads.


On TV (black and white), there was a cartoon commercial of a turtle wearing a helmet with ‘CD’ on it for civil defense; if an atomic bomb exploded, he did DUCK AND COVER (early ‘60s)

In 1977, I reported to the 2nd Infantry Division (Indian Head), 72nd Armor 1st Battalion A Company, where I trained to kill North Koreans if they crossed the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ); I was a gunner, a one-year adventure. Korea is a cool country and a very cold place.


The Demilitarized Zone is a strip of land across the Korean peninsula near the 38th parallel. North Koreans consistently infiltrated the South; in an incident I remember that happened before I was in Korea, North Korean soldiers axed American soldiers to death. The soldiers were cutting down a tree in the DMZ.


In 1978, I went back to Fort Polk. This time, I reported to the 3rd Battalion 77th Armor. B Company, I became a Tank Commander. I had my own tank and crew; I trained them as my old tank commanders trained me. Here, we tested a new version of the M60 and the M60A3, which had a laser rangefinder and made getting the range to the target easier. We still trained to fight the Warsaw Pact.


In 1980, I reported to Schweinfurt, Germany, 3rd Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion 64th Armor; my enemies this time were the East Germans and Polish soldiers. We were the backup for the 11th Armored Calvary if they attacked through the Fulda Gap.


In 1982, we were issued a new tank, the M1 Abrams. This tank was a far better tank than the M60A1. We did training exercises called REFORGER (Return of forces to Germany). After we received the tanks, we did REFORGER “Certain Shield.” The tank was named “Silent Death” by the opposing forces (red force) because the tanks were hard to hear, and the M1 was fast because of the turbine engine.


In late 1982, I reported to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where I would become a New Equipment Training Instructor and train soldiers on the M1 tank. I traveled to different posts throughout the Country, including Fort Hood, Texas (2nd Armored Division, 1st Cavalry Division), Fort Benning, Georgia (197th Infantry Brigade), Fort Stewart, Georgia (24th Infantry Division), and Fort Polk, Louisiana (5th Infantry Division).


In 1988, I reported to Amberg, Germany, to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Squadron, L Troop. Now, I trained to kill Czechoslovakian soldiers. The unit patrolled the border between West Germany and Czechoslovakia in case the Warsaw Pact nations attacked. In 1989, the Wall came down. The Cold War was over. I was transferred to I Troop, which needed a Platoon Sergeant. I was assigned to the 2nd Tank Platoon.


In August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s soldiers (Iraq) invaded Kuwait; the U.S. responded by sending the XVIII Airborne Corp; upon request by General Schwarzkopf needing additional troops, the VII Corp would deploy from Germany, which included the 2nd Armored Cavalry; in November the Regiment deployed to Saudi Arabia. “WHITMAN’S WARRIORS” (the platoon came up with the platoon’s name) trained to kill Iraqi soldiers.


G-1 (G, for a ground war, - (minus)1 one day before G Day) Saturday, Feb. 23, 1991, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment crossed the berm into Iraq. Once we crossed, there was little resistance; we set for the night. The next day, G Day, we started to move again, and the rest of the Corp followed. We fought several small battles (G+1, plus 1 day after G Day).


On the 25th, we engaged an Infantry Battalion, destroyed 32 personnel carriers, and captured 180 enemy prisoners of war (G + 2). On the 26th, we encountered elements of the Tawakalna Division, a division of Iraq’s Republican Guards. The Republican guards were the best troops Iraq had; they also had the best tank: the soviet T-72; we destroyed several T-72s. This battle would be called “Battle of the 73 Easting”. We fought from early afternoon till about midnight. At 0200, The 1st Infantry would pass through our line as we rested; G+3 the 27th, we were the Corp reserve. Little did we know the war for us was over; we fought 82 hours of the 100-hour war.


Later, we would move along the Euphrates River to a town named As Samawah; as we moved, we relieved the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. As we passed the units, it reminded me of the movie A Bridge to Far, where the airborne soldiers had no protection from the weather elements. Once we reached the town, we would provide security and see the other side of the war. Seeing the misery of refugees and people trying to survive - especially older people, kids, and women; We would try to help them as much as possible. Saddam Hussein was killing his own people.


The 1st Infantry would relieve us of this mission, and we would march 200 miles back to King Khalid Military City in Saudi Arabia. In late April, we would return to Amberg, the City of Amberg, and our sister unit, the 123rd Panzer gave us a ‘welcome home’ celebration. It was cool to see the citizens standing on the sidewalks yelling for us and especially the German soldiers standing with their weapons at present arms as we marched through the city. We marched downtown to a church, did a religious ceremony, and marched back to the post, where a celebration was set up.


I was awarded two Army Commendation Medals, one for Meritorious achievement during Feb. 23-28, 1991, “While serving as a Platoon Sergeant for Third Squadron, Second Armored Cavalry Regiment, Sergeant First Class Whitman displayed Exemplary professionalism in the performance of duty. During Operation Desert Storm, his leadership always placed his platoon in a position to bring destructive fires on the enemy at a critical point, which led to the destruction of an Iraqi battalion and the capture of enemy prisoners.”


The second Army Commendation Medal for Meritorious Achievement on Feb. 26, 1991, while serving as a Platoon Sergeant for I Troop, Third Squadron, Second Armored Cavalry Regiment, while deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm. “Sergeant First Class Whitman distinguished himself while fighting a superior armored force in prepared defensive positions. His leadership contributed greatly to his platoon, destroying seven tanks and eight personnel carriers and capturing fifty enemy prisoners of war. Sergeant First Class Whitman’s courage under fire, devotion to duty, and disregard for personal safety bring great credit upon him, the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment, and the United States Army.


I wish all ‘Whitman’s Warriors’ were awarded Commendation medals; the platoon did their duty. They performed their duties as trained; these medals are not mine. They are “WHITMAN’S WARRIORS” medals they earned by doing their duty. PFC Donald Smith told me after we finished fighting, “Hey Sgt. Whitman, we did this just like training.” It made ME PROUD OF THEM…. Soldiers magazine interviewed members of I Troop, Titled IRON TROOPS TRIAL BY FIRE. Members of the 2nd platoon were interviewed; I was asked to make a statement, but I refused; I told the reporter to talk to the platoon. It made me even more proud of them.


The Regiment was awarded the Valorous Unit Award For extraordinary heroism in action against the Iraqi Army. The Dragoon Battle Group attacked southern Iraq, under the lead of VII Corps, with such audacity that the Dragoon Battle Group quickly overwhelmed superior enemy forces, demoralizing them and taking hundreds of enemy prisoners.


On Feb. 26, during the Battle of the 73 Easting, the Dragoon Battle Group established contact with the Tawaklna Division and Iraqi Republican Guards Corps and decisively defeated their advanced elements as well as elements of other Iraqi armored units. Effectively fixing these superior enemy forces so the Corp could maneuver against and destroy them.


The 2nd Dragoon Battle Group displayed valor in combat that clearly set them apart from other combat units in the VII Corps.


In late 1991, I reported to Fort Knox, Kentucky. 194th Armored Brigade, Brigade S3, a staff job, but I would be in charge of the vehicles: The M113s, M577s, 5-ton trucks, humvees, 2 NCOs, 10, E-4, and below. I was unhappy with this job but did my best to accept it. We still had a combat mission as part of XVIII Corp, and we supported the Armor school with tanks. We did three joint exercises with the Canadians in Canada. We were scheduled to do an exercise with the Country of Jordan, and our vehicles arrived at the port in Jordan; the unit was notified to depart for Jordan.


As we flew to Germany, the exercise was canceled. We were told Hussein was moving troops to Jordan, so we refueled and returned to Fort Knox. The Red Cross workers welcomed us back.. “You have been away for a long time; Welcome Home,” they said. We were only gone just enough time to fly to Germany, refuel, and return… it was the thought that counted.


More on this story will be featured in the next issue of the GRIN.