CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT -- Operation Spartan Shield Soldiers from the Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Division and other Kuwait-based units were awarded the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge in a ceremony here on May 1, 2017. Soldiers assigned to the 29th Infantry Division earned 113 of the 119 total badges awarded, including all 39 of the gold-level awards; 63 silver and 17 bronze GAFPBs were also awarded.
The GAFPB is a foreign award authorized for wear on U.S. Army dress uniforms. Though the GAFPB is most frequently earned by U.S. Soldiers serving in Germany, it may also be earned elsewhere so long as the test is administered by German Army Officers or NCOs. Its size and design make it a highly sought after distinction.
"I've always wanted this award," said Sgt. 1st Class David Self, 29th Inf. Div., Battalion Operations NCO. Self considered the chance to compete for the badge here "a once in a lifetime opportunity."
Self trained with other Soldiers in his section and they competed as a team. He enjoyed the challenge offered by the GAFPB test and the opportunity to train for it in a deployed environment as part of Operation Spartan Shield.
The GAFPB's basic qualifications are taken from the German military physical fitness test that measures strength, endurance and functional fitness. Other events include a 100-meter swim in uniform, treading water, a pistol marksmanship test and a timed ruck march with a 33-pound load. Qualification for the lowest grade of the badge required completion of 10, 11-meter sprints, in 60 seconds, and maintaining a flexed-arm hang for five seconds, among other requirements. Scoring modifications are made based on age and gender.
Candidates were required to be certified on first aid and nuclear, biological and chemical equipment wear and use. Candidates had to meet or exceed the standard in all events to qualify for a particular badge level. For example, meeting the Gold standard in half the events and Silver standard in the rest would only entitle the Soldier to receive a Silver badge.
For the first event, the swim test, Soldiers were required to swim 100 meters in full uniform (without footwear and headgear) in under four minutes. After exiting the lap pool, Candidates moved to a diving area, and while treading water they removed their Army Combat Uniform down to their physical training uniform underneath.
On the second day, participants conducted the German physical fitness test. Their performance determined their first opportunity to compete for gold, silver or bronze level awards. On the third day, Soldiers conducted a timed ruck march with a 33-pound load. Soldiers were required to travel over seven miles within 120 minutes to qualify for Gold awards, over five miles in 90 minutes for Silver, and over three miles in 60 minutes for Bronze. The final event was a pistol marksmanship test with an M9 pistol at 20-meters.
Although he trained for weeks with his fellow 29 Inf. Div. Soldiers for the running and sprinting portions of the test, Maj. David Coyle, a planner with the unit, found that the desert environment provided some unexpected challenges.
"I finished the first lap and it was the weirdest thing, my tongue wouldn't move! It's so dry," said Coyle. "I actually don't like running," Coyle joked.
Coyle credited a rigorous functional fitness program for helping with his sprints. At the beginning and in between laps, sprinters must get into the prone position. The up-and-down movement is similar to burpees. When planning his training, he considered earning the badge an achievable goal for someone with an intermediate level of fitness.
Capt. Herrick Johnson, another 29th Inf. Div. planner and functional fitness enthusiast, recommended that those training for the badge follow a strict diet and learn to 'embrace the darkness.'
"Embracing the darkness is when you get into a workout that's very difficult. You just have to embrace the pain - the darkness - to push through it," Johnson said playfully. In addition to a training philosophy, Johnson also stressed the need for proper nutrition.
"Training for the badge required a lot of research, individual discipline and strict diet. To prepare for the ruck march, the meal the night before should be 60% fat, 50% protein and some carbs…no more than 30 grams," Johnson said.
Fellow GAFPB aspirants from the 29th Inf. Div. good-naturedly pointed out that the meal percentages Johnson prescribed added up to more than 100% and attributed his questionable math skills to his Infantry background. Johnson responded with action instead of words, achieving the badge's Gold standard. While his math may not have checked out, his techniques proved themselves in the end.