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Inside, you can hardly hear the shots // Humans of NATO Days

25.06.2023, 20:08

No modern army can do without tanks, so they are also an integral part of the NATO Days in Ostrava & Czech Air Force Days, where you can see them in both dynamic and static displays. But what is it like to be a tank crew member? What does it all entail? And how much room is there in the tank? Staff Sergeant Martin Strašil, a tank commander from the 73rd Tank Battalion in Přáslavice, answered not only those questions.

What made you want to become a tank crew member? 
Nothing. Coincidentally, it was assigned to me. I am from western Bohemia, they assigned us places and took me to the tank battalion in Přáslavice, where I wanted to get from for several years. But after three years, I found out that this is what I enjoy and what I want to do as long as I can.

And how did you get into the army? What was your childhood dream? 
Being a career soldier. My father was a career soldier, so eventually I knew I would be a career soldier. I started with dog handlers, eventually ended up with tanks, which I will never regret. It's the best experience I've had.

How long does it take to learn how to operate a tank? 
You will learn the basics as part of the standard course. In the one I took we were all newbies, so every glitch or every new thing pushed us forward. But year after year I keep improving not only in tank control, but also in terms of tactics. The tank expertise is so diverse that you don't only reach into the field of tank crew members, but you also have to master another field. You will learn something new every time, whenever possible. I could not say that I am a 100% tank crew member, I would put myself at 90%.

What is the standard equipment of a tank crew member? 
It is divided into different tasks. By default, a soldier or a tank crew member goes to the tank either in black, which I am currently wearing, or in the classic 95 camouflage pattern, plus the commanders carry a weapon, map materials, or other aids in the conduct of the battle. The shooter also has a long weapon with him, these days we use the Bren assault rifle. The commander and driver, on the other hand, are equipped with their own personal pistol. Plus, of course, means of protection against weapons of mass destruction, such as a gas mask, raincoat, or gas suits.

Can you reveal any of your personal interesting experiences from an exercise or a mission? 
Certainly. Czech tanks have never operated in a foreign operation, but a lot of crew members go through foreign operations, from the simplest to the most difficult ones in Afghanistan. I took part in a foreign operation as the chief gunner of the MRAP. I had similar experience from a tank - how to move in the terrain, how to search for sectors, what to look at - so the training of a tank driver helped me a lot for this job.

I have many interesting experiences from Afghanistan. But the most interesting thing, if I leave out the whole war, are the people, the environment there, it's absolutely wonderful. You get to a new world and you're in a kind of untouched land that isn't crazy with electronics, where it's really dark at night, the grass is greener during the day, as they say.

Read also interviews with other people participating at NATO Days

How much space do you have in the tank? 
There is plenty of room for those who can fold in the tank. If you know how to put yourself in the tank, you know your job, and you have it well rehearsed, which we have thanks to preparations and training, then you will fit perfectly into the tank. You also know what to do, where not to reach, so as not to injure yourself, because sometimes some accidents happen. But I've been with tank crew members for so long that I know what to do to avoid getting hurt.

Every visitor to the NATO Days remembers very well the sound of a tank shot. But how does the crew inside the tank perceive it?
This surprised me right away when I joined the tank battalion in 2006 and when I fired my first shot. I hardly felt it inside. This is due to the fact that we have kits on the head of the cannon that seal perfectly, and it is something completely different in the tank. When I sat outside, I was as scared as half the people here. I couldn't believe it was a tank.

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