GRAFENWOHR, Germany -- Knowing what was at stake, every soldier encountered a heightened sense of competitiveness during the rigorous five-day tanker challenge at Grafenwoerhr Training Area, May 7-12, 2017.

U.S. Army Europe and the German Army co-hosted the 2nd Strong Europe Tank Challenge that was designed to test capabilities, project a dynamic presence, foster military partnership, promote interoperability, and provide an environment for sharing tactics, techniques and procedures.

Platoons from six NATO Allied and partnered nations traveled from across Europe to showcase their capabilities during the 12-event challenge to compete for the bragging rights to be considered the best tank platoon in the Alliance.

During the challenge, Austria, France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine and the United States were tested on the basic soldier skills that any proficient tank force should have regardless of what nation they came from.

"We have a series of events that are scored out of 50 points each, but generally the live-fires are weighted a little more heavily," said Capt. Curtis Ballard, Commander, Company A, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. "Some of the events are, offensive and defensive live-fire operations, foreign vehicle identification, call for artillery fire, precision driving, combat pistol shooting, an obstacle course and the Tanker Olympics, that are all revolved around basic tanker soldiering skills."

1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt., had the opportunity to participate in a multinational competition while rotating through the European theater as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

"It's been a long arduous process for our soldiers, and I think we've overcome quite a bit," said Ballard. "Not only training for the competition, we're quite busy with our operational tempo to train for the partnered exercise we have coming up."

"However, the soldiers have done really well balancing the demands of both obligations," Ballard said.

Although the competitive nature of the challenge was high, the purpose of the event was to build esprit de corps, develop traditions and professionalism and strong relationships with NATO Allied and partnered nations.

Staff Sgt. Donnell Jordan, Master Gunner, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt., 3rd ABCT, discussed the tank platoon perspective on participating in the challenge, and having the opportunity to interact with soldiers from different nations.

"They're ecstatic, they talk about it every night," Jordan said. "When they all get together after the days events and they talk about how well they did, or if they think they did poorly at something, they also listen to the other countries as they talk about their performance on certain events saying what they could've done better. Then each nation shares tactic, techniques and procedures after the fact, making this a big learning experience."

The sharing of knowledge, advice and lesson learned could be one of the reasons that throughout the entire challenge the scores were extremely close. It came down to the last event to determine the overall standing with a small margin of victory. However, Austria took top honors with Germany placing second and the U.S coming in third.

While this is a competition with scoring and recognizing the top performing tank platoon, the Strong Europe Tank Challenge is ultimately about interoperability, with the ideal outcome to get NATO Allies and partners to learn from each other and to promote a common understanding of shared capabilities.

----

U.S. Army Europe is uniquely positioned in its 51st country area of responsibility to advance American strategic interests in Europe and Eurasia. The relationships we build during more than 1,000 theater security cooperation events in more than 40 countries each year lead directly to support for multinational contingency operations around the world, strengthen regional partnership and enhance global security.