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The Beast--Training

The project required us to train a five-man crew - four Soviets from the Guards Armored Division and one Afghan Army officer - in the basics of tank operation and armored warfare. We did extensive research on the technical and operational details of the Soviet T-55 Main Battle Tank and worked on an operational mock-up in the U.S. before proceeding to Israel where the film was to be shot. My Cadre NCO on this project was Sgt. Mark Ebenhoch, a Marine Reservist we recruited on an earlier film.

Having obtained two T-55s captured by the IDF during the fighting with Egypt, we proceeded to a remote area of the Sinai Desert bordering the Dead Sea and set up a base camp. While we waited for our two vehicles - named Boris and Natasha - to be delivered by flat-bed trucks, we trained our Soviet armor crew in basic infantry weapons including the Makarov pistol, AK-47 assault rifle and the RPD machinegun. We also worked on polar navigation techniques and desert survival. As the script speculated that the Soviets had employed chemical weapons in Afghanistan, we also spent some long, hot hours training in standard issue Soviet Army gas masks.

When the tanks arrived at our site in the Sinai, we began working in earnest on crew drills, emergency procedures, rough terrain driving and tank gunnery. In about four days, our crew could mount the vehicle after being alerted from a dead sleep, crank it up and be rolling to a selected map coordinate in under five minutes. They could also conduct emergency bail-out drills and clear a disabled vehicle in under ten seconds. We worked to retrieve wounded men in the field by driving over the casualty and pulling him up through the tank's emergency hatch in the floor of the turret.

At the end of the tank training schedule, our crew moved into shooting scenes and we began to work with the actors playing Afghan mujahideen. They were armed with a variety of ancient and modern weapons from flintlocks to Dragunov sniper rifles but we put everything on the firing line and set up a rotating circuit so they all got enough familiarity to fire anything that came to hand during filming. They had no specific tactics, so that part of training was ignored. The most difficult aspect was teaching them to load and fire an RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launcher.