STUTTGART, Germany -- Soldiers heaved rocks, jumped into sand pits, and raced around the Stuttgart High School track as they competed for the German Sports Badge, Saturday, June 19.
The badging was co-hosted by the 52nd Signal Battalion and the Reservistenkameradschaft Reutlingen, a German reserve unit based 30 minutes south of Stuttgart. It tested the Soldiers with a gauntlet of sporting events including a 3000 meter run, shot put, long jump and 100 meter sprint. The swimming portion of the event was cancelled due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
“The German Sports Badge allows us to show the U.S. Soldiers that their service here is valued, and to provide them with an opportunity to earn an award that they can take back home,” said Lt. Col. Jorg Hildenbrand.
One of the German military’s oldest awards, the German Sports Badge was first created in 1913 as the German National Sports Badge. It’s gone through many iterations, but has always aimed to test the competitor’s endurance, strength, speed and agility with top scores earning the advanced ranking and passing, a basic placement. Additionally, Saturday's event allowed for Soldiers to earn the Austrian Sports Badge if they upped their 3000 meter run to 5000 meters.
While some events overlap with the more widely known German Armed Forces Badge for Military Proficiency, or GAFB, Hildenbrand said Saturday’s event was more about building friendship than just earning some chest candy.
“We’re looking back at 20 years of partnership with the 52nd Signal Battalion,” said Hildenbrand. “Every time we get together, I’m always happy to talk to [American Soldiers], and learn about their heritage, what they’re doing, and what their plans are in Germany.”
The event brought in about 35 Soldiers from eight different units throughout Europe, including Capt. Jonathan Kuhlman, a judge advocate general based in Kaiserslautern with the 21st Theater Sustainment Command. Kuhlman said that the moment he had an offer to compete he booked a ticket to Stuttgart, even if it meant giving up a Saturday.
“A lot of people given an opportunity to test or prove themselves they’ll jump on it -- I did,” he said.
He added that “This was my first time with our partner forces, and it was definitely a good opportunity to share some stories and experiences.”
The day didn’t end with the sports badge, however, as Hildenbrand and his cadre of German troops, rolled up their sleeves and joined a garrison-led “Equality for All,” - Juneteenth 5k fun run later that day.
“Friendships are built when we look beyond just the Soldier,” said Hildenbrand.
The 52nd will bring the Germans back to Panzer later this summer, as they will be giving Hildenbrand’s Soldiers a chance to earn American marksmanship badges.