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The Marines of Company E, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division often get the same question when seen on post, “There are Marines at Fort Knox?”
Yes, there are Marines on post and they’ve been here since the 1980s. They are one of the only remaining groups to use the tank training ranges that remain at Fort Knox.
The reserve unit has an inspector instructor staff of about 15 Marines who are active duty and 120 reservists who train at least one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
The unit is the only Fort Knox unit still conducting tank training on the installation, 1st Lt. Thomas Hodge said.
“Armor hasn’t totally left Fort Knox, just the armor school,” he said.
The Marines probably will stay a while because Fort Knox has retained several tank ranges and the area offers plenty of room for the tanks to maneuver, he said.
A Marine Reserve unit operates a bit differently than the Army, Hodge said. It is a cross between what he National Guard and Army Reserve do for the Army.
Marine reservists can fulfill combat arms roles, something Army reservists cannot do, Hodge said adding the Army Reserve is mostly combat service support.
Reservists fulfill every military occupation specialty and duty, just as their active duty counterparts. In the 4th Tank Battalion, they provide armor support for the division, Hodge said.
“Fort Knox, being the former home of armor for the Army, it’s only natural to have a tank company here representing the Marine Corps,” he said.
One of the big things to do is to provide tank support and be ready to go with 72-hour notice, he said. In 2003, the company was called up for support in the invasion of Iraq.
During deployment, the company typically attaches to an active duty unit.
The Marine reservists come from all walks of life. Some with college degrees, some currently in college and others are business professionals or in management roles.
Hodge is a teacher.
“When the time comes and we are called up, we drop whatever we are doing,” he said.
In 2011 they supported Operation African Lion, working with Moroccan forces. It was a month-long training mission.
It was a good experience for the Marines and helped them get used to the deployment process, Hodge said.
The experience helped to make smoother transitions to their deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, he said.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Schickel has been with the unit since 2004 and deployed with it to Afghanistan in March.
The mission was a little different than what the Marines were used to because it wasn’t armor support. They worked on the pivotal task of route clearance. The task was to go up and down the routes to clear them before the forces came through. The main task was to make sure there was freedom of movement on the route and look for improvised explosive devices.
The fact that this company was chosen for this task is a part of why Schickel is a part of it. It has a good history and a good name, he said.
Hodge estimated 90 percent of the company comes from Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
“Our company has a very good reputation amongst the battalion for having great Marines and getting the job done,” he said. “I think that’s why Marines like coming here.”
There are great marines with strong work ethics and integrity in this area that bring the values from home with them, he said.
The Marine Corps is picky about what reserve units it deploys and this one deploys a lot, he said.
Because in this type of warfare the IEDs are a majority source of casualties, to trust them to do route clearance means the Marines place a lot of confidence in this company, he said.
They averaged finding more IEDs than being struck by themwhich translates into a good performance, Hodge said.
They had a great welcome home to Fort Knox when they returned in November and the Freedom Riders were there to escort them back from the airport, an effort appreciated by all the Marines involved, he said.
After returning some went on leaveand some finished their active duty orders. Once the cut-off date hits, they all will go back to their civilian jobs and to training as tankers. There are mechanics, communications specialists and other support Marines in the unit as well.
It takes a lot of really good Marines to keep this company going and there are a lot of good Marines here, Hodge said.
“In my opinion it’s because we pull from a really good population right around here,” he said. “There are a lot of hard-working guys who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and that shows whenever we come to work here.”
“I think that’s one of our best assets,” Hodge said. “The average guys here from this area are just good people who love their country and want to do their part. “
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.