By Staff Sgt. Kathleen Polanco, 7th Army Training CommandOctober 27, 2016
Grafenwoehr, Germany (Oct. 27, 2016) -- A Norwegian squad walked away with top honors in 2016's European Best Squad competition here, Oct. 27.
This year's competition was focused on military sniper teams. Ten squads from across Europe competed alongside five U.S. military teams during the competition, Oct. 23 to 27.
The competition, hosted by the 7th Army Training Command here, is an annual squad competition that is focused on bringing together different squads from NATO and Partner for Peace nations by participating in a series of events.
The sniper squad from Sweden took second place, while the squad from Belgium took home third place.
The competition included a friendship shoot, a high-angle shoot from a helicopter, a water shoot from a boat, advanced marksmanship and night shooting. Some of the physical events included stalking, a terrain run, a 20-kilometer foot march, an obstacle course and land navigation.
"The competition challenged the competitors' physical and mental toughness as well as their marksmanship proficiency," said U.S. Army Maj. Erick Nyingi, the officer in charge of the competition.
The goals of the competition are to promote professionalism and esprit de corps, develop traditions and continue to promote partnerships with Allies and Partner for Peace nations.
"We will fight together," said Nyingi. "So we train together, develop trust in each other, and share tactics, techniques and procedures."
The squads are made up of five Soldiers: a squad leader and two sniper teams. Each sniper team consists of a shooter and spotter.
The European squads that participated in this year's competition are from: Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The U.S. squads that participated included: 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, Hohenfels, Germany; 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany; 173rd Airborne Brigade, Grafenwoehr, Germany; 4th Infantry Division from Fort Carson, Colo.; and 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, U.S. Marine Corps (USMC).
The multinational competition proved to be of great use for many of the squads as they expressed that they are going to take what they learned from the competition back to their units.
The Norwegian squad leader, Sgt. Kritian Bjarka, said that he plans to implement stalking in the open terrain at his home unit.
Although the Best Squad Competition is an annual competition, some of the squads are new participants.
This is the first year that any sniper squad from the USMC is participating in the competition. The squad, stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., had three recently-trained snipers on the squad, said Sgt. Mark Slocum, the squad leader of the USMC sniper squad.
Even though some of the Marines on the squads are new snipers, the Marines came prepared to perform whatever task was given to them.
"We didn't find out about the competition until about two months before we actually came out here," said Slocum. "So we came up with an 8-week training plan which consisted of stalking, live-fire exercises, call for fire exercises and pretty much everything we were going to do out here."
Slocum said that the Marines found that their pre-training came to valuable use throughout the competition.
The Italian Army squad had a bit more experience in the sniper field with their soldiers ranging from five to ten years of experience.
The Italian sniper squad also holds the title of the first sniper squad in Italy, said Staff Sgt. Nicola Vittozzi, the Italian squad leader.
One month prior to attending the competition here, the Italian squad participated in a live sniper exercise in Rome in which they were able to use that training towards the Best Squad Competition.
Although some squads conducted training prior to the competition, they experienced training here that they have never done before like shooting from a helicopter.
The high-angle shot which required the sniper teams to successfully engage two targets while hovering in a UH-60 Blackhawk within two minutes or less and with three rounds or less.
"It was very hard because we never do training on the boat or helicopter," said Vittozzi. "And we think it was a good experience and very fun."
Like the Italian squad, the Norwegian Army squad thought the high-angle shot was difficult as well but found that the land navigation course was the best event for them.
"It was good because you can use your physical abilities and combine it with a lot of skills," said Bjarka, "It's good for us to speak English on communication equipment as well because a lot times we have to speak to other units in English."
While many of the squads were able to build team cohesion in their own squads, they were also able to learn from the other teams as well.
"You can see how they perform and how they do their standard operating procedures," said Bjarka. "It's nice to see how they do their training."