Guest Post by Daniel Slone
There are distinct varieties of infantry in the U.S. Army—mechanized, airborne, light—and while these days I am a light or “leg” infantryman, for several years early in my career I served in a mechanized infantry line company. I have many fond memories of my time as a Bradley gunner and commander, but it was my service as a Bradley gunner that laid the foundation for those years.
What was your job title?
I was the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (BIFV) gunner for the company executive officer (XO) in a mechanized infantry line company.
What is the job description for that duty position?
The “official” job description that appeared on my Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report (NCOER) read as follows: As a member of a mechanized infantry platoon, the Bradley gunner maintains accountability of up to $2.5 million worth of equipment, BII, and communications systems on board the vehicle; trains and mentors the Bradley driver and is responsible for his equipment and well-being; operates the 25mm cannon, 7.62mm coaxial machine gun, and TOW missile system during combat patrols; navigates for the Bradley commander; monitors communications traffic between other vehicles and ground units; and takes control of vehicle movement in the absence of the Bradley commander.
Normally the Bradley gunner is an E-4 position, but the XO’s gunner is an E-5 position. Since the XO is frequently off of the track attending to other duties, the gunner is responsible for taking care of the vehicle and its driver, ensuring that all preventive maintenance checks and services are done and that resupply requirements are fulfilled, and basically having the track ready to roll the moment the XO climbs into the turret.
What did you learn in the job?
Normally Soldiers serve as a Bradley driver before becoming a gunner, and the formal training we received at Ft. Benning covered only the driver’s role. I was promoted to sergeant and the gunner position from a dismounted infantryman position, so I had a crash course in both hull maintenance (the driver’s responsibility), which includes the engine, transmission, and tracks, and turret maintenance (the gunner’s responsibility), which includes the turret drive, weapons systems, and radios. Consequently, I learned a great deal about the Bradley overall, about gunnery skills, and also about managing Soldiers since I had a driver to take care of in addition to the vehicle.
What did you like and dislike about the job?
I particularly enjoyed Bradley gunnery and gunnery under combat (or at least simulated combat) conditions; I served a rotation at the National Training Center (NTC) in this role as well as a train-up for that rotation the prior year at Ft. Hood. There is also a lot to enjoy about taking ownership of “your” vehicle and keeping it clean, organized, and fully mission capable. Because the XO was usually off the track and I did not have the section leader/platoon sergeant chain of command found in the line platoons, I had a lot of independence in how I did my job.
The negatives were fairly minor. Maintenance is not always enjoyable, especially not in the Mojave Desert in July, and certainly not if you have to replace or repair track on the vehicle. Also, as the XO’s gunner I was often assigned important but not necessarily thrilling tasks like making copies of operations overlays for maps or building sand tables, including a memorable one at NTC that was so large-scale the briefing participants could physically walk through the plan instead of using model vehicles.
What were some of your key achievements in the job?
For the most part I focused on fulfilling my responsibilities thoroughly and having the Bradley ready to roll when the XO needed it. During our Ft. Hood training I was monitoring the radio (another of those routine responsibilities) and heard the battalion scout platoon leader calling the battalion TOC to relay a spot report. Battalion could not hear him, but they could hear me, and so could the PL, so I relayed traffic and enabled the scouts to get timely reporting to battalion. That helped earn me an award for the rotation. I was also selected to receive a challenge coin from the brigade commander during the NTC rotation the following year. For me personally, the most important achievement was gaining the knowledge and experience to become a successful Bradley commander a few years later.
What are some tips you have for other people in this job?
First, your driver is the sole Soldier for whom you are responsible (an E-5 team leader in an infantry line squad typically has three), and he should be your top priority. Normally the whole three-man crew takes care of the Bradley, with the assistance of the dismounted infantrymen assigned to it for the heavy work like changing track, but there are no dismounts in the XO’s track, and the XO has plenty of responsibilities, so the two of you have to work as a close-knit team to keep the vehicle in top condition. Second, become a subject matter expert on both hull and turret maintenance for the Bradley. There is a thick technical manual for each, and they should be routine reading material in your spare time. Third, learn everything you can from other Bradley gunners in the company about gunnery. Normally you learn from your Bradley commander, but again, working for the XO rather than an E-6 who was once a gunner means you have to find different resources.
Daniel Slone is a member of the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Louisiana Army National Guard with 18 years of service. He has been a first sergeant since 2011, first for the dismounted reconnaissance troop of the brigade’s cavalry squadron and now for the heavy weapons company of one of the infantry line battalions. He served previously as a dismounted infantryman, Bradley gunner, Bradley commander, and light infantry platoon sergeant, deploying to Iraq as a Bradley commander in 2004-05 and again in 2010 as a platoon sergeant.