Several Soldiers gathered around a noncommissioned officer at the Gammon Physical Fitness pool late Friday afternoon as he explained the standards for the swim event.

Soldiers traveled from as far away as Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to participate in this year's German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competition. Even two Airmen from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois participated.

Shortly after the briefing, Capt. Christopher Foster, from Medical Recruiting Brigade and the officer in charge of the event, called the first six Soldiers to
the dive platforms. They readied themselves on their platform wearing their
military uniforms.

"Get ready!" he yelled.

At the tweet of his
whistle, the Soldiers dove in. Some surfaced swimming the sidestroke, others the breaststroke, still others sped down their lanes using the front crawl. Within a minute, most of the Soldiers had switched to another stroke, treaded water
or quit.

"We did a couple of practice sessions, and the health clinic did a couple as well," said Foster. "Some of them showed up; those people
are doing well. The people that didn't show up are struggling."

The badge, called the Sch├╝tzenschnur in German, is a basic qualification requirement for members of the German armed forces. Lt. Col. Daniel Krebs, a professor at the University of Louisville and reservist for the German army, said German soldiers test on it annually to maintain their readiness, much like the U.S. Army Physical Fitness Test.

Maj. Anthony Gonzalez, officer in charge of the entire competition, said the competition is not a given at Fort Knox each year for those who participate in it, as evidenced by unit patches and service uniforms from other installations. He explained that they are fortunate to be able to host the badge completion because of Krebs being so close to Fort Knox, and the support of installation leaders.

"Nothing is allocated for this; it's an all-volunteer event. The post recognizes it and they support it but there are no resources, so nothing's projected or planned ahead of time," said Gonzalez. "We have to basically build this from the bottom up. It's really by the goodness of everybody's heart we're able to put this together."

Because the badge is one of only a few foreign badges U.S. military personnel are authorized to wear on their uniforms, Krebs was on-hand Friday and through the weekend in an official capacity to monitor the competition and certify results.
He said the swim was as expected.

"The swim is usually one of the hardest events," Krebs said. "We often have fail rates of about 50 percent because they're just not used to swimming with a uniform."

Master Sgt. Allen Secor, NCO in charge of the swim event, said the high rate of failures is due to a lack of preparation.

"Most of the failures are from those who have not made an effort to practice. Of the ones who have put in the work, sure we'll have a few failures, but most make it through," he said. "[The swim] is definitely harder than Soldiers anticipate. They think if they can swim, they can pass this event, but in uniform, it's a different animal."

The Soldiers who completed the lap-and-a-half in under four minutes weren't done. They then had to tread water while removing their uniform and tossing it poolside.

"C'mon, Williams! Get your hips up. Get your hips up," Foster yelled, encouraging one of the Soldiers struggling to remove his top.

Those who survived Friday showed up at Natcher Physical Fitness Center Saturday morning to face the next challenges: nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) suit drills, track and field events, and pistol qualification.

The NBC drills are standard U.S. military training, where Soldiers must react to an attack by correctly donning a gas mask within nine seconds and then suiting up
for full protection within minutes. The military calls the suiting process its Mission-Oriented Protective Posture, or MOPP.

Upon completing MOPP testing, Soldiers moved to the track outside, where they participated in some German track and field exercises that included a bar hang and 1,000-meter run.

After completing the track and field events, Soldiers traveled to the range to qualify with their 9mm pistols. They shoot five rounds at three targets from about 10 yards away. In order to qualify, they must put at least one round in a designated range within each target.

There are three levels of success overall in the competition: bronze, silver and gold.

Gonzalez said those who earn at least bronze in the events by the end of Saturday will end up medaling. That's because the only event that stands in their way is the 12-kilometer ruck march on the last
day. For those who make it to the end, a braided rope will swing from their collar to their epilate, with an oval eagle hanging near their right shoulder in bronze, silver or gold. And the satisfaction of having met German standards.

"We don't have a lot of opportunities to earn foreign badges," said Gonzalez. "This is one of the few you can actually wear on your uniform. These don't come around very often, so when the Soldiers see this opportunity, they really jump on it."