Raindrops ping off my poncho like bullets as the tank churns its way through knee-deep mud bogs. The scent of diesel stings the air. Terse commands squawk out of radios. Somewhere I must have missed the turnoff for Dale Carnegie Boulevard and ended up smack on World War II Lane. Not that anyone here at Tactical Tanks is complaining.
In 2004, David Estes realized an improbable dream: turning a passion for military history and hardware into a corporate-training boot camp aimed at galvanizing a group of Dilberts into a regimented machine. Using funds from the sale of his utility pole-servicing company, Estes, 51, bought 20 decommissioned British tanks with inoperative cannons, plopped them down on 265 pan-flat acres, punctuated by rolling hills and woody spots, outside of Sherman, Texas, and waited for wannabe warriors to arrive.
Mission accomplished. The program already has played host to Cisco Systems salespeople, a German video game kingpin and even a well-known but privacy-obsessed rapper. Sure, there's plenty of bonding that goes on when buddies team up to drive a mechanical marvel to predetermined GPS coordinates. But let's get real. Tactical Tanks is all about big boys and even bigger toys playing Patton in the north Texas scrub brush.
During my visit, a deluge is turning this private park into a soupy rendition of the Ardennes Forest. Dressed in fatigues and assigned three to a tank—commander, navigator and driver—we quickly adapt to clipped military jargon as our machine marches across the barren landscape. We scream into our helmet microphones in an effort to be heard over the clattering engine, and growl trying to read a shaky map obscured by water droplets.
But the chaos is all worth it. A sports car may scream sex, but a tank taps into an even more primal part of the brain. Forget Leonardo DiCaprio's quaint outburst at the prow of the RMS Titanic. Command a beast capable of flattening a modest suburban house without so much as a transmission hiccup, and you're truly "king of the world."
Tactical Tanks' fees start at $300 a person, but vary depending on group size and exercise complexity. And if you go, bring a poncho.