JOINT BASE McGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST - The striking image of a shining golden eagle on the U.S. Army service uniform is certainly a rare sight, but one that will get a Soldier noticed. In August 2014, three Soldiers from the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., want to be among those few.
The German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge (GAFPB) (German: Abzeichen für Leistungen im Truppendienst) is a military decoration of the Bundeswehr, the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. For the United States military, the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge is one of the few approved foreign awards, and it is one of the most sought after awards to achieve.
Soldiers can earn one of three levels of the award; gold, silver and bronze.
"My competitive nature couldn't resist this," said 1st Lt. Johnathan Clark, medical officer for the 72nd FA BDE. "I love the opportunities the Army has presented to me and I try to take advantage of every situation and attend every class they will let me attend."
In order to earn the badge, Soldiers must take part in a two-day competition comprised of three basic fitness tests (BFT) and five military training tests (MTT).
The BFT begins with and 11 x 10 meter sprint test, followed by the chin-up (flexed arm hang), and then a 1000 meter run, taken in sequence. Minimum test requirements have to be met, independent of age or gender. If the Soldier does not meet the minimum pass requirements or one or more test events, the BFT will be deemed failed. No additional scoring will take place on the same day and the participant must try again the next day.
After the BFT, participants are released for personal hygiene and make their way to the 9mm pistol range to begin the next sequence of events. The MTT consists of 9mm pistol qualification, 100 meter swim in uniform, first aid test, Chemical/Biological/Radiological/Nuclear (CBRN) equipment (Mission Oriented Protective Posture "MOPP" level 4, ) test, and a road march. Combat Lifesaver qualification within the last calendar year will take the place of the first aid test, as well as current CBRN qualification fulfilling the MOPP-4 requirement.
"I trained a total of five days all on the swim. I wish I would have had longer to train but I did not have the time," Clark said. "If I would have had more time I would have liked to train on the flexed-arm hang from the pull up bar and the pistol qualification."
Clark obtained a bronze medal in the competition.
Though all of the events are challenging, the 100 meter swim is clearly the event that produces the most failures of the competition.
"In Germany, children learn how to swim when they enter kindergarten. That's not the same here in the U.S.," said Sgt. Maj. Mike Kitzler, German Liaison officer at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. "Here, in the U.S., it's not a requirement. I've seen several participants that grew up in a city and never learned to swim. Trying to swim 100 meters in under four minutes is difficult enough if you're not a strong swimmer, but it's even harder when you have to swim in uniform."
Such is the case for Sgt. Raymond Tobin, supply sergeant for the 3rd Battalion, 313th Regiment (Logistical Support), who grew up in Boston, Mass.
"The most challenging event for me was the swim," said Tobin. "I learned to swim last summer so it was extremely difficult for me. To train for this competition, I continued my regular physical training regimen and modified it to work in agility drills and swimming."
Tobin did not successfully finish the swim challenge but said he will take the time before next year's competition to improve his skills in the pool.
Kitzler said the GAFPB is an annual requirement for all German Soldiers.
"I enjoy watching all of the events because you see such a wide range of Soldiers competing," Kitzler said. "I'm looking also for team building, leadership qualities and how they work in a group. That's very important for upcoming deployments. My philosophy is: the weakest Soldier should lead the group and the strongest Soldier will help motivate them to get the same badge as the strongest."