The legend of this one-of-a-kind incident deemed the Special Forces tank is not rooted in World War Two, but I can’t help but make the comparison to pictured fictional [assumed,] tank commander. Sergeant Oddball, from one of the greatest military movies of all time, Kelly’s Heroes wherein the personality of a man who in the face of danger will shout, “Crazy! I mean like so many positive waves maybe we can’t lose! You’re on!” This is the personality of the man in this legend, but our guy is entirely more independent whilst demonstrating a very similar set of characteristics to Oddball. Yet they both share the core traits that are required of the kind of wild man who could leave such a known-unknown mark upon military history.
The man in question is neglected in official records, and his exploits are greatly unknown. To many, he is considered a disgrace, unprofessional, without military bearing, and so yet amongst the military personnel who claim to have encountered him; he was a hero, an underdog hero in the mainstream sense. In fact, most people won’t find his story as amazing in its inglorious fashion- there are few songs sung for those who truly make their own way in the military. Especially those who don’t find merit in anyone service member who lacks the Hollywood off-the-shelf operator concept of what anyone in uniform may be to a keyboard commando or those who honestly, just take the military too seriously; especially for those who refuse to follow orders, and make their mark against the enemy – in their own way.
In the midst of the Gulf War, as Saddam’s Iraqi Army was still believed to be a force to be reckoned with. American-led allied forces drew a line in the sand along the Saudi Arabian borders of Iraq and Iraqi-occupied Kuwait. In 1991, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 678 authorizing member states, cooperating with the government of Kuwait, to use all necessary means to enforce a prior resolution demanding that Iraq withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait. Among those forces, was a man who was destined to shape the war on his own accord.
The first time I heard the story of this man I was dismissive primarily because the story-teller was completely out of his mind, and barely spoke English. Albeit, and up until the last veterans of the Gulf War either left the Army or moved to positions outside of my sphere of influence, their stories of an unquestioned and lone soldier in an M1a1 Abrams Main Battle Tank was very well alive. From the words of multiple, now retired and senior military sources I pass on to you the exploits of an infamous man who alone wrought hell on the Iraqi Army, and maintained his battlefield presence through a bit of charisma and a lot of luck.
Dang-old Kevlar, I need my horse,
As I mentioned above the first time I heard the story it was the most unbelievable, and that’s the version that I now choose to share. To your benefit, I’m not the unintelligible spoken-word originator who I had to endure. The man, I heard the story from was a Louisiana native, from Creole country – born, bred, raised and unchanging in his thinking since he was born. A fact the was clear as his through processes were always first in Creole, and with a bit of delay, he would translate what happen in English to Creole, and then back into English. It was a painstaking process you could visibly observe and often hear.
His linguistic display was further complicated because he had spent the better part of the past twenty years, to that point, in Germany. Listening to him was a factored challenge, especially when he was agitated or excited, beyond the Creole and English spectrum, as bits of German would work their way into his sentences at the oddest points. For example, “Dang-old, I-I tell you again, now privates. I ain’t, jwenn dang-old kevlar, I need a horse. Where’s my horse? Mmmhhmm, immer tagen, Berlin!” To complicate matters and what ensured that both my fellow-soldiers and I understood this man, is that he was our First Sergeant. A Drill Sergeant Badge wearing, First Sergeant who would often wear his Drill Sergeant hat, even though he had left that duty a few years ago and we were stationed in Germany. He was a man of his own regard, but he was the big boss for young Private, E-1 Clay.
And yet despite the language barrier, you knew what he wanted. His methods at first glance may appear mad, but his delivery in instruction and leadership were sound.
Barring any arguments as to my interpretation upon my first account of the story of the Bearded Tanker would be that it was recounted to me in different units and by different soldiers who to my knowledge were not in collusion. Secondly is how I heard it, and that is what grabbed my attention. At this point, I had been under this First Sergeant’s leadership for a little over two years and was then fluent in what we called amongst ourselves “Kevlarese.” We call his language Kevlarese and him [while out of earshot,] ‘First Sergeant Kevlar’ because he had a peculiar fascination with the Army Combat Helmet, which he and I as a result also refer to as a Kevlar.
Nevertheless, I was Specialist, E-4 Clay at that time, to him a Spec-4 and I happened upon him and a small grouping of the few other soldiers who had combat patches at that time. Here, we were far separated from our normal day-to-day, five-times removed from our Task Force and 1SG Kevlar had stopped in to visit the detachment from my platoon that over watched the town of Cernica, Kosovo. It was there around the table of our impromptu chow hall that he told the story that every other Desert Storm veteran present seemed to be aware of, and I was mystified by.
The point of his story was nestled around the fact that the first deployment of soldiers to Afghanistan had recently occurred and he at that time foresaw the oncoming invasion of Iraq – over a year away. This was one way he started to gear us up for the war he saw on the horizon, and his story in his eyes was about innovation and patience in the face of adversity. Although, I still won’t say anything kind about the many mornings of company-level physical training while wearing a protective mask that followed.
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck,
In the Gulf War, and what most folks skip over, is the wait. That is the long wait as a great Army of nations across the world assembled in the desert. From August 7th, 1990 to January 17th, 1991, the grand unified force of the world sat impatiently in the sands of Saudi Arabia. Throughout their long wait, shenanigans, of course, unfurled. After all, there is nothing more dangerous than bored soldiers.
Within the coalition, service members slipped up and were punished for the run of the mill infractions from running a prank of screwing off in front of the wrong person, sleeping on guard, or losing their cool. Others were psych casualties from issues at home or the stress of the impending battle, or just from aimlessly meandering about the desert for the better part of a year. As for our man of this story, we don’t know for certain which, or if he even fell into any of these categories.
We do know that he grew tired of the humdrum schematics of playing Army and decided to take matters into his own hands and for his own reasons. From an Armored Regiment, one man loaded up an M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank with a heavy load of ammo, provisions, and weapons. Alone, he drove from the secured embattlements and towards the enemy without a hint or notice to anyone.
When something like this happens, it’s often not sent off in a press statement and realistically; what could be assumed with no leads? The classic investigations were launched, and the many reconnaissance elements along the border were issued a BOLO, (Be On the Lookout Order). Yet he slipped by them all, and in a tank. That may seem difficult to believe, but it really is not. Across the lines were hodgepodges of multinational units, and of course American units who all communicate on their own methodologies. Regardless, most of the troops along the fabled line in the sand would not hear about the Lone Tanker until they were headed home the following year.
The man himself, though, alone had survived his first expedition north of the Saudi Arabian border and is then reported to have reappeared on the far Western flank of coalition forces. It those far reaches he was out of sight and out of mind from his Armored Regiment, and it was there that his myth grew. Meanwhile, his importance fell to the wayside as he was a disgrace to the cause and unimportant to the fight ahead as far as the military was concerned – he was missing and presumed dead after heading North.
Unknown to the command of the American military, he had made his way West through a series of trials and tribulations, and on this journey, he learned the lesson that would keep him moving throughout his solitary expedition. That is, as long as you look the part and play it – you can generally get away with anything. At first, he may have received some flack, and may have even been stopped once or twice, yet I’m sure he could have told anyone he was falling orders for one reason or another in the middle of that nest of dehydrated impatience. Yet, by the time he arrived at the far Western flank, which commanded by French forces adjacent to the 82nd Airborne Division, his reputation preceded him. Thanks to military culture and innuendo, he was the Special Force Tank commander – and he was a bad ass.
From the mouths of the 25th Infantry Division, 101st Airborne Division, 18th Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and now in the French commanded coalition zone – the man was Rommel, Patton, and Rambo with a tank. Even then, though, he was only a legend, just another story soldiers tell one another while waiting out a guard shift. Such a tank, unit, operation or another of such a making was unknown and unlisted to the command and staff. They did not see it, and it was not listed, so it must not be real.
He was considered a gremlin, if anything, a ghost in the machine and considered the joke excuse to explain annotated, yet unaccounted for expenditures of fuel and munitions. Seemingly, there is no way some lone cowboy in a tank is running ops across the desert and leaving a trail of resupply at coalition logistical points. Yet as time passed and he grew bolder on runs across the border against light elements of the Iraqi Army, he would return in need of AT-4 rockets, .50 and 7.62 ammunition, food, and fuel. Assumingly M1A1 main gun ammunition was in short order on the Western flank.
At these logistical points, he would never stay long, and he did most of the talking. There this man was, and he carried himself with no care and out of regulations. From a state of the art premier battle tank in 1990, a long-haired, bearded, wild-eyed, and assumingly mad despite what rumor you believed would appear from the desert and demand resupply. Thinking through what one could do, under those circumstances, be it deny him and either screw-up some up-on-high clandestine operation, risk a confrontation with an extremely well-armed psychopath, or just give him what he wants and let him go away. Realistically, I would do what everyone appears to have done, which is give him the resupply and call it a day.
Situationally, the man was not hostile to our side and was giving hell to the bad guys, so yes, of course, give him what he needs. Hell, even if the rumors were true, and he was some covert-whatever, I and many other folks would not have the clearance to even know. That is what the regular military typically does when SOF rolls in; just let them do their thing. Granted some half-cock LEG/POG may try to get squirrely about regulations, and that usually lasts about two minutes. So with these guys, especially in circa 1990/91 with very little exposure, as compared to now with SOF, yes, indeed the regulars at the logistical points are just going to hand over whatever, and with no questions asked.
This looks like a duck and quacks like a duck approach that the Lone Tanker had fallen into, worked out and throughout Desert Shield. Time was on his side, and he decidedly, only passed through the lines of the American forces. Just beyond, he set up shop until Desert Storm, within the French controlled coalition forces far Western flank. There he bided his time and assumingly communed with the voices in his head that led him to that point. Others say that he maintained steady hit and run tactics on the Iraqi Army with and without his tank while working with Bedouin and varied anti-Saddam militias in Southern Iraq.
Behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and hell followed with him,
The Lone Tanker was at least in the general loop, although it is not known if he worked his way into any plans and operations meetings. Regardless, his exploits throughout the attack place him at nearly every main engagement and strategic point where he is said to have popped up out of nowhere and opened fire, and of course, always at the right moment. Albeit, 1SG Kevlar was a Spec-4 for the attack and along the Southern Iraqi border with the 1st Infantry Division, and this is where he saw the Lone Tanker in action. 1SG Kevlar, at that time, he was doing what every Sapper in the world wanted to be doing at that time, he was breaching the minefield and anti-tank berms that separated the coalition from Iraq to open hell onto the Iraqi Army. How glorious that must have been to be one of the first into that fight, and particularly after such a protracted wait.
On the enemy side of the obstacle belt, as he and his fellow Sappers hastily cleared, marked, and secured the far side of the breach, something odd caught his eye. The Iraqi Army was in flight, yet as it rolled away it appeared that a stationary tank, one of their own was lighting up their own tanks. As the dog of war poured through the breach and let forth fire on the remaining brave few Iraqis and abandoned who were not in total and chaotic retreat. There he saw that the tank that was firing on the other Iraqi tanks rise up out of the ditch it was positioned in. It wasn’t an Iraqi tank, it was an M1. 1Sg Kevlar said that this disappointed him, and it would have disappointed me as well because for all he knew at that time is that some other unit had beat them through. It was only later he’d learn more about the mystery tank.
After a brief exchange, Saddam’s alleged Army of 1,000,000 men organized as 68 land force divisions had crumpled. Kuwait was liberated, and collation forces pulled back from Baghdad. The fight, including the aerial and naval bombardments, was over in five weeks. In Kuwait, the young 1SG Kevlar, now on downtime began to wonder and ask about that mystery tank he saw after they breached. Of course, no one initially knew. It was only when the various units began to condense to redeploy home that the tales of the Lone Tanker began to spread and that it became apparent to 1SG Kevlar that it was the Lone Tanker.
Granted, that the Lone Tanker’s tale did not end with Desert Storm, or and if officially recorded, not in any easy-to-reference official Department of Defense documentation. I learned as I sat around the table with a cup of Mermite coffee, now cold in my hands, as I heard the rumors of the unknown whereabouts of the Lone Tanker. 1SG Kevlar and the others at the table concluded with the various fables and myths and legends that I would hear again and again until the Desert Storm veterans moved on. That is, besides the locations of the Lone Tanker, an inconsistency which seems to change from person to person. Yet one fact remained consistent, and that is that he did not come home. They say either he roamed after the war and spent time as an advisor or mercenary for the Kuwaitis and Saudis, but most importantly that he kept his tank. Some said that they saw him on their various deployments to Kuwait throughout the 1990s, yet I can’t confirm as it this was before my time.
I can only say that by the time I arrived in Kuwait in 2003, and Iraq shortly thereafter is that I did not encounter the Lone Tanker. Since then, no one seems to mention or remember neither the Lone Tanker nor his legend. If his legend is true, he may have since died or been captured by the point, or became some version of a modern day Lawrence of Arabia. His whereabouts are as unclear as his actual name and unit.
Featured Image: Assumed Tank Commander and Wildman, Sergeant Oddball – MGM
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