EL PASO, Texas -- For the past five years, Lt. Col. Nils Wetzel, Deputy Commander of the German Air Defense Center here, has supported Fort Bliss units by hosting competitions for U.S. Soldiers to compete for coveted German Armed Forces Proficiency badges.

There are two events hosted bi-annually, and, within the past two months more than 150 Fort Bliss Soldiers earned German Badges.

Competing to earn the German Weapons Badge and the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge is an excellent opportunity for Soldiers and Airmen to gain a cultural understanding and appreciation for what German Soldiers have to do to remain qualified every year.

The German Weapons Badge, known as the Schutzenschnur was conducted March 7 through 14, 2014. Seventy-five Soldiers earned their bronze, silver or gold badges.

"It was an awesome experience being a Reserve Soldier and getting the opportunity that normally only active duty gets," said Sgt. Damian Robinson, with the 356th Transportation Company, 383rd Quartermaster Battalion, from Las Cruces, N.M. "It created a lot of motivation in our battalion seeing our guys out there."

The German Weapons Badge event took place at McGregor Range, with Soldiers competing in three categories: the stationary target P8 pistol, the pop-up target P8 pistol and the pop-up target G36 rifle.

Each qualification has specific requirements which make the courses even more challenging. For example, although there are only five rounds in the stationary target P8 Pistol qualification, you must have at least one round in each of three targets to qualify.

The German Armed Forces Military Proficiency Badge was offered March 31 to April 4, 2014. This event began with a pre-qualification day where participants completed the swim portion, which has proven to be the most difficult of the requirements, completing a 100-meter swim challenge within four minutes while in uniform, trousers and blouse only; then taking the trousers and blouse off while treading water. There can be up to a 40 percent failure rate with this event, alone. Seventy-six Soldiers completed the events and earned their badges at the award ceremony the final day.

The other requirements include the German Physical Fitness Test, a 110-meter shuttle run, pull-up hang and 1,000-meter sprint, Pistol Qualification with the stationary target P8 pistol, and a 12-kilomter (7.4-mile) rucksack march while carrying 33 pounds of additional weight. These events test many more areas of the body than the typical U.S. Army Physical Fitness Test that consists of the 2-mile run, sit-up and push-up events.

"This event challenges every single Soldier, regardless of their background or physical shape," said Spc. Jesus Rios, an Army Reserve Soldier who was awarded the Certificate of Excellence as the "best of the best" from the German Air Defense Center for his outstanding efforts in the event. "this will be a long lasting memory for me because I was able to meet comrades who motivate you and push you to do great."

The wide range of participants included two U.S. Air Force Airmen, National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers, a married couple, two colonels, three first sergeants and numerous Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadets.

In addition, Lt. Col. Robert Wagner, deputy commander of First Army Division West's 402nd Field Artillery Brigade, who is the Fort Bliss Liaison for German events, earned his fifth Gold Badge in the German Armed Forces Military Proficiency event.

His badge, which displays the number "5" was presented separately, at the end of the ceremony, by Wetzel and 1st Lt. Dominik Zeilmann, the German Air Defense Center's officer-in-charge of the events. Zeilmann recently earned his 10th Gold badge and presented Wagner with the very badge he received upon completing his 5th event several years ago.

The next German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge events will be held this fall.