TWINSBURG, Ohio – Sixty one soldiers from across the country, including Puerto Rico, gathered here with a goal in mind: to get awarded the German Armed Forces Badge for Military Proficiency. These soldiers, stemming from the ranks of private first class to lieutenant colonel, had to sweat and endure the hot, humid and soggy weather of Ohio to pass many events over a three-day period in July.
“We don’t just give out this badge, you have to earn it,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Fergeson of the United States Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) who hosted the event.
Dating back to the 1970’s the GAFB was awarded to German soldiers as a way to show others that they had met all the proficiency requirements that was, and still is, needed to be a soldier. “This is a proficiency badge,” said Sgt. Maj. Alexander Goeb, the liaison for the German army. “If you wear the badge, it shows that you are proficient in everything.”
Every year, German soldiers are required to take the proficiency test. Failure to meet the requirements means the failure to stay in the German army after two years.
“I like to see Army Reserve soldiers come from all across the country to compete for the badge,” added Goeb.
Before the start of the qualification, soldiers had to be combat lifesaver qualified before participating in the first event.
With the soldier’s Army physical fitness uniform drenched from the rain, participants started off the morning with the 100-meter dash. The day continued with more track and field events, followed by swimming events. Each soldier had to complete different disciplines in each category, which made the competition even more grueling.
They then split into different groups, performing the high jump, long jump, shot put, and the 3,000-meter run. Qualification on these events would be determined by the competitors’ age and gender.
Despite the tough events, Pfc. Blake Britvec, a civil affairs specialist for the 415th Civil Affairs Battalion in Kalamazoo, Mich., qualified with the bronze badge. Just months earlier, Britvec graduated basic training and advanced individual training, “I figured I was weaker in a couple of the physical parts of the event,” said Britvec, “but, it is really good to learn where I am weak and what I can work on.”
The competitors then donned their swimming gear, splashing their way into the 200-meter swimming qualification. For Sgt. 1st Class John M. Richards, an information systems operator for the 2nd Psychological Operations Group in Twinsburg, Ohio, he finally has an opportunity to compete after a scratched event in 1983, when he was stationed in Germany. Twenty eight years later, Richards realized that being in the pool was not his strong suit. “Swimming was a challenge because I haven’t swum in 12 years” said Richards. “Now that I am 46, I figured this is the last chance to physically do the events.”
After a physically exhausting day one, the competitors had to test their marksmanship abilities on the pistol range. Unlike the Army standard of qualifying with an M16A2 rifle or an M4 Carbine rifle, the German standard is qualifying by hitting three out of five targets with a 9 mm pistol at a 25-meter target. Hitting five out of five will earn an opportunity at a gold badge.
“I ran track and field in high school so a lot of the track and field events came easy,” said Jamar Williams, of 2nd POG. “But swimming and the pistol event was challenging.”
The last day tests the mental toughness and stamina during the ruck-march event. Soldiers had an opportunity to either do the six-kilometer for bronze, nine-kilometer for silver or 12-kilometer for the gold, while carrying a 33-pound rucksack.
“It takes a lot of work just to get the GAFB,” said Pvt. John Harrison from the 415th CA Bn. “You can not just work out for one activity. You have to put some effort to train for them all.”
Out of the 62 that competed, badges are awarded to 40 soldiers. Most of the soldiers failed to qualify in some of the events on day one, during the track and field events and swimming.
“It is definitely not a cake walk,” added Williams “you are doing so many strenuous activities in such a short time.”
Williams added that competing has benefited the soldiers in getting great training. “You will definitely get your physical fitness training and water survival training on day one, marksmanship training and endurance training on the last day for the ruck-march.”
Soldiers who did not pass, or wish to get a higher badge, will have a year to train when the GAFB test comes back to Twinsburg. “Each soldier should work on the area that they feel they are weak in,” said Fergeson. “Being physically fit is a key component for the badge.”
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