Public Health Command Soldiers earn prestigious badge

By Chanel S. Weaver, Public Affairs Office, U.S. Army Public Health CommandOctober 11, 2013

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Flexed Arm Hang
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As she embarked on her journey to complete a 12-kilometer road march across rough terrain in less than two hours while carrying a 33-pound rucksack, Pfc. Michelle Knevitt couldn't help but wonder what had she gotten herself into.

"I was so exhausted, and I felt that I just couldn't make it," said Knevitt, a preventive medicine specialist at the U.S. Army Public Health Command headquarters.

But her battle buddies wouldn't let her quit.

"She was just a few miles shy of the finish line, and we knew that she could do it," said USAPHC Headquarters 1st Sgt. John Castillo.

The support and motivation of her team members helped propel Knevitt forward.

"If it wasn't for my fellow Soldiers, I would have given up," said Knevitt. "I had to use every ounce of energy and muscle I had to make it through the final stretch."

Knevitt's hard work and determination paid off Sept. 26, when she became one of eleven Soldiers from the USAPHC to earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge, after completing a grueling competition held in Reston, Va.

Introduced in the 1970s, the GAFPB competition recognizes and rewards those Soldiers in the German Armed Forces who possess superior physical abilities. U.S. military service members may also compete for the distinguished badge.

An extremely strenuous competition, the GAFPB challenges even the most physically fit Soldiers.

The participants compete in several categories, including first aid testing, CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) testing, a German military basic fitness test, swimming, marksmanship and a road march. Each participant must pass all events in order to be awarded the badge.

Many of the USAPHC Soldiers who participated in the event said that completing the swimming event was the most difficult part of the competition.

"As U.S. Army Soldiers, we are used to running and we are used to doing push-ups, but we are not used to timed swimming events," Castillo explained.

According to the rules of the competition, Soldiers had to swim 100 meters in less than four minutes, while wearing their full Army Combat Uniform, minus the socks and boots. Once they completed the timed swim, Soldiers had to remove their ACU top and bottom while treading water.

"I consider myself a decent swimmer, but the first time that I hit the water with the uniform, it was a rude awakening," said Castillo. "It was extremely difficult to complete this part of the competition because the weight of the ACUs really dragged you down."

Fortunately participants could attempt this feat multiple times.

"It took me four tries to pass this portion," said Castillo, who eventually earned the gold badge. "The key to success is staying focused and determined, despite the obstacles that come your way."

Another challenging aspect of the competition was the flexed arm hang, which required Soldiers to hold onto a horizontal bar while suspended in the air for as long as they could, while never allowing their chin to fall below the bar. To earn top honors, USAPHC team members had to hang on for at least 46-65 seconds, depending on age and gender.

Capt. Erika Huerta, aide de camp to the USAPHC commanding general and gold badge winner, exceeded these standards and held on for 82 seconds, longer than any other USAPHC team member.

Now that the competition is over, USAPHC team members are relieved, and proud of their accomplishments.

In addition to earning the right to wear this distinguished badge on their service uniforms, they were presented with the newly developed "Sienko Silver" award from USAPHC Commanding General Maj. Gen. Dean G. Sienko. Sienko Silver is a time-off award presented to military and civilian employees to reward and show appreciation to those in the organization who exceed standards of excellence.

GAFPB winners were awarded gold, silver or bronze badges depending on their level of physical performance throughout the competition. Other winners of the gold badge included 1st Lt. Victoria Schuele, Spc. Stephen Murray, Spc. Thomas Laswell and Pfc. Michelle Knevitt of the USAPHC headquarters. Gold winners from Public Health Command Region-North included Sgt. 1st Class William Uhila and Spc. Marcus Lee. Silver winners included Staff Sgt. Nichaya Brown, Spc. Ryan Diem and Pfc. Michael Murphy, USAPHC headquarters.

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U.S. Army Public Health Command