The Tank (A Labor Day Story)
By Rodney Dial
September 04, 2022
The Captain of the detachment called me about the news, reporting that one officer was believed to be dead; the other clinging to life. The suspect was at large in the community and the town was in near panic mode. In one shocking event the community police department was devastated and the fear was the shooter would not stop before we could travel to the community and stop him.
Immediately plans were made activating law enforcement resources statewide. Trooper emergency response teams were utilized as far away as Anchorage and we quickly acquired a local charter to take us to Hoonah. Before we could get on scene we learned the second officer had died.
The first group of Troopers arrived within a few hours. A fast response back then considering it was a weekend and we had to find a charter and transport people and gear from Ketchikan.
After we landed we were able to confirm that the shooter, John Marvin Jr. had barricaded himself inside his home. Our goal now was to contain him and to peacefully get him to surrender. Hours passed and as additional officers arrived, the home was surrounded from all angles to protect the community. Nearby residents were evacuated from their homes and businesses closed. The shooter had a high power hunting rifle and presented a danger to anyone within eyesight.
Saturday turned into Sunday and after hours of trying, we were unable to negotiate his surrender. As a supervisor of the troopers on scene, I was mindful that for us to keep eyes on the shooters home meant that he was able to see us as well. We used cover as much as possible, but everyone was in danger.
On Sunday a new tool arrived, recently acquired by the department. Brought from the MatSu, a remote controlled robot was our hope for safer observation of the barricaded subject.
A team was set up slightly behind a nearby building to maneuver the robot into position. The unit was driven to the front of the residence and we hoped the size and power of the tracked vehicle would be enough to push through the front door. After reaching the door the operators began using the robotic arm to break the door knob. After several attempts the front door suddenly opened and the suspect pushed the robot over a railing where it fell to the ground and was damaged. Marvin quickly retreated back into his home and barricaded the door.
By this time, numerous response teams from across the state had arrived. Many communities offered help to include Juneau PD and even the U.S. Coast Guard. Because the suspect’s house was near the waterfront, ferries and barges were interrupted; people were asked to stay indoors and the town was effectively shut down.
Sunday turned into Monday and all attempts to convince Marvin to peacefully surrender failed. A decision was made to force the suspect out with volleys of tear gas. Troopers from the emergency response team began shooting large canisters of tear gas into the residence. As these canisters were launched, windows were broken and gas could be seen pouring out of the structure. After dozens of rounds were fired into the residence, the suspect came out and surrendered; he was quickly taken into custody. The gas had been so intense that the inside of the house, even the yard was coated in a thick layer of powder.
One team began the investigation and search of the residence while I transported Marvin to the Juneau Correctional Center via a charter. The investigation in Hoonah took days, but the damage lasted far longer. The community was effectively without a functional police department. I scheduled Troopers from all over SE Alaska to TDY to support the community for months.
The town was in shock for a long time, but the outpouring of support for the officer’s families was truly remarkable. A few weeks after this event we all came together to remember and honor the fallen. In this town of 800 virtually everyone participated.
A Juneau Police officer and I carried the remains of the officers in a somber ceremony to help the community heal.
I have never seen such love and community unity as I saw at this event. Elders helped with planning and preparing a traditional foods potluck, others helped with logistics and lodging for visitors. It was an amazing example of the true Alaska sprit of love and community.
The weeks and months that followed this event really impacted me. I felt a strong responsibility to do what I could to protect the Troopers I supervised should something like this ever happen again.
In those days the Department of Public Safety was on a pretty tight budget, we had money for basics like soft body armor, but only a select few had the better armor that would stop the more lethal rifle rounds. I started learning about body armor and even began making my own ballistic panels. After acquiring a few sets I sent the first ones to the Troopers on Prince of Wales Island. The Troopers that serve there have fewer opportunities for backup and have major communication dead zones on the north end of the island.
I also began researching armored vehicles… the Troopers had none in those days. One would have been ideal in the Hoonah event as officers could have approached close to the house, observed and remained in safety. Over the years in Ketchikan we experienced several dangerous situations in which having the option of a protected vehicle would have been a good tool for officer safety.
I learned that a few departments across the country were using old military vehicles, demilitarized and equipped for law enforcement purposes. One such community was the San Francisco Police Department.
In various forums on the internet I learned that this was considered the “Poor Mans/Department’s” armored vehicle. Police armored vehicles were just starting to become a thing across the country, but were extremely expensive; in many cases exceeding a quarter million dollars.
The SFPD vehicle was an old British Alvis Saracen APC or Lite Tank to those in the UK. These vehicles were built in the years following WWII and were relatively inexpensive to acquire. After significant searching, I found a posting in a military forum about a person in the Midwest that had one on a farm. I contacted him, negotiated a price and purchased the vehicle.
Multiple shipping companies and weeks later the vehicle arrived at the AML yard in Ketchikan. I spent a significant amount of time researching the operation of the vehicle and had my DMV approved trip permit in hand.
I was impressed that AML was able to lift the vehicle with their forklift…its really heavy. This particular Saracen is a Mark IV version that was up-armored in the 80’s. According to its history it saw use in the IRA conflict in the UK.
I also discovered that the British are known for making complicated military vehicles. The original Saracen has four wheel steering and six wheel drive with multiple fluid levels that need to be checked in a start up sequence. Six bevel boxes, a fluid flywheel, actuators, and various engine fluids…a complicated vehicle. After about a ½ hour of checks I started the vehicle started and I began the journey home to 15 Mile North Tongass.
The top speed for a Saracen is about 40 mph on level ground. Any incline and its about 25 mph max. The extra armor added so much weight that the Rolls Royce six cylinder gas engine struggled to move it. It was an exciting ride and everything seemed fine until I got near Lighthouse Chevron, then steam started coming out of the engine.
As luck would have it…I now consider it a blessing…Joe at Lighthouse Chevron had experience working on military vehicles in his past; abet not this exact kind. In short order he was able to determine that an old hose was leaking cooling fluid and made a temporary fix. I eventually got the vehicle home.
It was at this point that reality started kicking in for me. A lot harder to drive than I expected, a lot slower, apparently prone to breakdowns, old and how am I going to get parts for this; I probably should have considered that before I bought it. The thought crossed my mind that I might have just purchased a decoration for my yard. In the weeks that followed it seemed I would get about 10-15 miles between breakdowns.
I met a lot of people in those days trying to help me with this beast, including the crew from All American Auto. After the first tow to All American, it became clear that future tows would probably need to be done by someone with a crane, as the weight was simply too much for a standard tow truck…my foot was not on the brake I promise!. During the first few months I spent plenty of time speaking to ex-military mechanics in the UK while trying to scrounge parts from old warehouses. In one conversation I remember asking them about why I am going through gallons of gear oil. Their reply, “Mate if it isn’t leaking it doesn’t have oil in it.
Finally, the moment of truth came when Joe at Lighthouse suggested I needed an expert. The tank had bent a part of Joe’s ramp for his lift due to the weight…he was so cool about it, but it still made me feel bad. Steele Shrum at Alaska Diesel Power is the person you need to talk to said Joe.
I had never met Steele before, but people spoke highly of his abilities. I went to his shop and asked him his thoughts. Steele said that he had seen the vehicle at Lighthouse and he could modernize it. He said, do you know how much this will cost? I said, “A lot?” and Steele replied, “Yep”.
The first thing Steele said I needed to do was to find a sacrificial vehicle that could be used for parts. Something like a dump truck with a DT466 Engine he said. A few weeks later I found a vehicle that would fit the specifications requested by Steele.
I found an old municipal dump truck located in the lower 48 up for auction. By chance Steele happed to be on a trip in the area and checked the vehicle out for me, It’ll work he said. I bought the vehicle and had it shipped to Ketchikan.
Now the work started. Steele had to completely tear down the Saracen before he could rebuild it with a new drive train.
What Steele was attempting to do had been tried by other countries, including South Africa seeking to upgrade their fleets of Saracens. None of their attempts were considered successful and were abandoned.
Many complex tasks were required including Engine removal, vehicle body separation; even Vigor Shipyard was involved in creating new parts.
Months went by and the bills were adding up. In addition to my day job with the Troopers, I worked every night late into the evening at the family business. In those days, many people helped fund this project with their tattoos; thank you!
Over the next several months, Steele kept working on the project and I kept working on ways to fund it.
Finally, on March 6th, 2012 after about 6 months and more than 500 hours of work, Steele showed up at the local Trooper station with the worlds first US/UK modified Saracen hybrid armored vehicle with a new top speed of somewhere around 70 mph (no we have never driven it that fast, freight trains don’t stop on a dime). However it is likely one of the fastest APC/Light Tanks in the world.
Over the next few years…as my finances would allow the vehicle was upgraded with many modifications to improve its abilities. Steele’s work was featured in magazines and filmed by NatGeo.
This is how the Tank looks today. At one point it was offered to the State as an emergency vehicle for Law Enforcement use. Due to maintenance concerns it was decided that I would retain ownership of the vehicle and keep it available to local law enforcement if needed.
Today it is generating its own history in our community at parades, events for children and even for dignitaries.
This was an amazing project to be part of and really impressed upon me how many people in our community have such incredible talents and can literally do things that no one else has ever done.
Seemed like Labor day was the perfect time to tell this story. A big thanks to my friend Steele, Joe and all the people that helped out.
Received September 03, 2022 - Published Setptember 04,2022
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