Sunday, October 30, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan —
Remnants of other countries lay in ruin covering the Afghanistan landscape. Many countries have passed through this land in their efforts of domination, each leaving something behind. Many of the items are being used, while most litter the sides of the road and decorate various junkyards.

There is one particular item of interest for the United States. It is a French Renault FT/17 tank circa WWI. Before tanks were a part of the Army, this tank helped the U.S. in many campaigns in Europe during the war. On loanStaff Sgt. Christina Bhatti 11th Public Affairs Detachment

from the French government, Gen. George Patton, then a captain serving under Gen. John Pershing, was one of the first to learn how to operate this type of tank.

The rusted remnants of two FT/17s lay tattered and disassembled in a junkyard in Kabul and forgotten until armor officer Maj. Robert Redding came across them. “Being an armor officer, I knew that these tanks were special,” said Redding. After finding them, he did what he thought he should do – he took photos and e-mailed them to the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, Fort Knox, Ky. — that was Friday. By Monday he had seven responses.

“They were excited and very interested to bring the tanks back to the states,” he said. The museum previously owned a FT/ 17 tank, but at the request of the French government, sent it back to France, Redding said.

“It’s a very rare tank,” said French Maj. Thierry Delbarre, project manager. “France is interested in getting and keeping whatever intact equipment that we can.”

But this tank will go back to the U.S. The French have agreed to let the U.S. have this tank. They already have a body of a FT/17, and are more interested in finding an engine, Delbarre said.

Only about 5,000 of these tanks were made and the design and capabilities proved invaluable to many different countries in Europe. Their design boasted the first tank with a full traverse 360-degree rotating turret. It is a light vehicle, which weighs approximately 7,000 pounds. A two-man crew – a driver and a gunner, operate the vehicle. The modern configuration of the tank is still used in tanks today; the driver sits in the front and the engine is in the rear. There are only four or five of these tanks left in existence, said Redding.

Now that the tanks were found, they have to get to the states. The first step was getting permission from Afghanistan. Redding went to Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Defense General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum is also the commander of northern Afghanistan.

“He was more than willing,” said Redding. “He considers this as a gift for what we have done for this country.”

Dostum allowed one of the two tanks to be taken out of Afghanistan. With the help of Delbarre and historians from the 326th Military History Detachment, a reserve unit from Columbus, Ohio, the best tank was chosen. Plans are still being discussed how the tank will be removed from the junkyard and transported to the States, but for Redding the odessy is almost over.
“I have been working on this for five months,” he said. “It has truly been an odyssey for me and now I am ready to get this tank to (Fort) Knox so others can learn about our history of tanks.”

Bill: If you want to learn more about the FT17, go to http://mailer.fsu.edu/~akirk/tanks/

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