FORT BENNING, Ga. — Second lieutenant Lillian Polatchek, the first female Marine to attend the Army’s Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, graduated at the top of her class April 12, 2017.
Polatchek, a New York native, was commissioned in November of 2015 after attending Connecticut College. After graduating The Basic School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, she reported to the Marine Corps Detachment at Fort Benning, Georgia to attend the U.S. Army’s Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course.
The Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course is a five-month course which both trains and inspires armor officers in order to provide the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and allied nations with confident, competent and agile armor officers capable of conducting and leading unified land operations as part of a combined arms team.
“It teaches them the fundamentals and tactics that apply to armor,” said Gunnery Sgt. Justin Gindlesperger, an ABOLC instructor. “It also teaches them the basic technical knowledge they’ll need to know just to operate the tank safely and effectively. It’s also where they’re introduced to what it takes as a leader of a crew, first, and then a platoon.”
ABOLC is broken down into three phases: the foundation phase, the crew phase and the mission phase.
During the foundation phase, students are taught a foundation of how to effectively plan and execute a tank mission from a leadership position. Throughout this phase, students will be expected to compete in a series of additional physically demanding events in both a team and as individuals.
Students are also given the opportunity to become certified in the Modern Army Combative Program and conduct an initial Ranger physical assessment test for placement on the Order of Merit list for an opportunity to attend Ranger School.
“The first phase is primarily where we learn tactics and the orders writing process,” said Polatchek. “It’s really a helpful refresher for all the Marines who learned the start of those tactics at an infantry level at TBS, but then learning to adapt it to the speed and firepower that tanks have was probably the most challenging part.”
ABOLC students spend the first 12 training days of the second phase learning about and training on the tanks. Polatchek and other Marine students specifically trained on the M1A1 Abrams tank. Each student receives a five-day block of instruction on each vehicle that includes hands-on training and simulator training. Day 11 of the crew phase is a comprehensive day of testing that includes the Gunnery Skills Test and Gunnery Table I at the firing range. Completion of this event signifies student’s readiness to execute live fire.
During the range density of this second phase, Marine students have the opportunity to execute Machine Gun Baseline and Tank Live Fire. Machine Gun Baseline serves as a bridge between the simulated engagements that the students have been executing and actual execution on the M1A1 Abrams tank-platform.
During the Tank Live Fire, students execute five distinct engagements which test their comprehension of the tasks that they have been taught, as well as demonstrate all of the skills that are necessary to succeed in crew-level gunnery assignments at their first respective-units.
“We learn the technical skills that we’ll need and we learn to do basic maintenance as well as gunnery skills,” said Polatchek. “It gives you a real appreciation for what the gunners are going to be doing. For all of us here at ABOLC, we’re going to be in the tank commander seat, as a platoon commander, so we got a better feel for all the skill that goes into the other positions. I think it’s really important for each of us to know what our Marines are doing, even if those aren’t roles that we’re fulfilling ourselves. You shouldn’t really ask your Marines to do anything that you couldn’t do yourself. It was really important for us to learn at least the basics of what each crew member is going to be doing.”
The third and final phase of ABOLC combines both the tactical skills learned from phase I and the technical skills of the second phase. It consists of 27 training days designed to train and assess students in a tactical field environment. Four days of Phase III are spent in a classroom or simulator environment, in either the train/educate mode or in a simulated graded practical-exercise. These days are designed to review doctrine and the operation order process with students in order to prepare them to successfully lead a tank or scout platoon in a tactical field environment.
Students spend 11 days in this third mission-level phase conducting Situational Training Exercises focused on tank platoon, scout platoon and troop-level operations. Following successful completion of STX, students transition to the Competitive Maneuver Exercise for a seven-day summative assessment of information learned in the course through hands-on application and demonstrated proficiency of the student’s accumulative learning and ability to effectively plan and execute a tank mission.
“Phase three was pretty high tempo,” said Polatchek. “There’s a pretty quick turnaround from the planning process, but phase three was also easily the most fun part of ABOLC. It’s where everything really comes together and you get a chance to be out there doing what you’ve spent all that time preparing to do.”
The Army’s Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course is the only school Marines can attend to earn the MOS title of Tank Officer.
“What makes this course unique is it’s the only place in the Marine Corps where you train officers to be tankers,” said Gindlesperger.
“The small group of Marines in the class worked really well together and that reflects in the class rankings,” Polatchek said when explaining how the course was unique in the Marine Corps.
Polatchek’s graduating class had five Marines in a class of 67 total students, with four of the five graduating on the Commandant’s List, which honors the top 20% of the graduating class.
“With the course being from a school that’s from another service, you get a chance to work with some of our peers from the Army, which is also just a great experience,” said Polatchek. “You almost, in a way, learn more about the Marine Corps seeing how the Marines do things differently.”
Polatchek expressed her eagerness to lead Marines using the knowledge she learned from ABOLC.
“Learning the importance of planning, maintenance, and understanding your platform as best as you can is what I took away the most from the course,” said Polatchek. “A tank platoon has 16 Marines, and that small leadership-size really gives you, as a platoon commander, the ability to directly work with the Marines you’re leading. I’m excited to take everything we’ve learned here and to get a chance to go out to the fleet and apply it”
Polatchek will now report to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and serve as a Tank Officer with 2nd Tank Battalion.
By Lance Cpl. Troy Saunders