GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Many Americans serving in Germany know the Edelweiss as a nice lodge and resort nestled between majestic mountains, bright, blue skies, vibrantly green trees and fluffy white clouds in Southern Bavaria. But for some brave challengers, Edelweiss can be a lot less comfortable -- even a bit of a cliffhanger.
Soldiers from the 21st Theater Sustainment Command's 18th Military Police Brigade participated in exercise Alpendistel 2016, specialized German mountain warfare training in Bad Reichenhall. Iterations of the two-day exercise took place July 20-21 and July 27-28. The exercise is designed to challenge the physical and mental toughness of the participants as well as prove their proficiency in mountain operations.
A total of 39 participants, including eight Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team completed the training, with 36 earning the coveted German Mountain Proficiency Badge -- including the special Edelweiss badge specially worn by German Mountain Soldiers.
Two fairly daunting obstacles stood between the Soldiers and the badge: the Predigtstuhl and Seinskopf, two mountains located in the Bavarian Alps, where the majestic mountains were mean, the verdant trees were vicious and the fluffy white clouds were just a reminder of how high the daring Soldiers had actually climbed. Scaling more than 6,000 feet in elevation and covering more than 20 miles in distance, the Soldiers and Bundeswehr allies rucked across the rocky, unforgiving terrain. Carrying more than 25 pounds of equipment and a weapon, they rappelled from a 40 meter rock cliff, climbed the face of the mountain, using ropes and harnessing equipment for 200 meters, and went head-to-head with a special guest challenger: the weather.
During the course of the second iteration of training, Mother Nature decided the training wasn't difficult enough, so she sent a few thunderstorms just to shake things up, turning the bright blue skies to dark gray fire hydrants pulsing rain. Some of the tents were flooded -- all Soldiers were required to spend their nights "under the stars" -- and all of the participants were drenched, adding an extra layer of adversity to the training.
Each team of participants was led by specially trained mountain guides to ensure each task was accomplished correctly and safely. Respondents responded enthusiastically to the challenge and shared opportunity.
"It is great -- I'm absolutely grateful," said Bundeswehr Brig. Gen. Alexander Sollfrank, commander of the 23rd German Mountain Infantry Brigade based in Mittenwald. Soldiers of the 23rd are specially trained for operations in difficult, adverse terrain. They're comprised of elements including reconnaissance and engineers as well as a specialized mule company.
Sollfrank said he hopes the U.S. Soldiers were able to learn and enjoy the challenging training as well as the cohesion built with German allies. He hopes more Soldiers as well as allied and partner nations can participate in future iterations of the exercise. The exercise, as well as other specialized small-unit training opportunities, "help enhance individual Soldier skills and overall interoperability with our German Bundeswehr brethren, as well as, our other allies and partners nations" said Brig. Gen. Markus Laubenthal, the U.S. Army Europe chief of staff, who helped facilitate the opportunity for the American Soldiers.
German Mountain Proficiency Badge qualification comes in three phases: "Bronze," which the participants completed over the last few weeks; "Silver," which requires participants to complete a winter portion of the training complete with skis and snug accommodations in an igloo; and "Gold," which requires Soldiers to complete the summer portion twice as well as the winter course within a year's time. These are daunting tasks; but Sollfrank said accomplishing them yields its own reward. Each Soldier can take pride in accomplishing a feat that only a few can say they've done.