PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (April 24, 2023) – In a ceremony at the Presidio of Monterey’s Berlin Wall Memorial on April 22, members of the German and United States armed forces demonstrated their friendship and fidelity as 75 U.S. service members received the German Armed Forces Badge for Military Proficiency.
German Air Force Lt. Col. Oliver Engels and German Navy Commanders Oliver Heinicke and Sidney Gottwald presented service members from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard with the badge, which is one of the few approved foreign awards in the U.S. military and one of the most sought-after.
Testing for the badge took place over the course of several weeks in and around Monterey and included a ruck march, pistol qualification, physical fitness test and swim test. In addition, service members had to show they received first aid and Mission Oriented Protective Posture, or “MOPP,” gear training and are proficient. Depending on how well they did in each event, those who passed could earn bronze, silver or gold medals. The U.S. service members earned 41 gold medals, 33 silver and one bronze.
Most of those who earned the badge are students at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. Service members from all branches of the military attend the schools and serve at the installations.
Engels, a master’s degree student at NPS who provided German oversight for the badge, said U.S. service members inspired him with how committed they were to not only earning the badge, but the best score possible. In addition, they spent their free time on several weekends to complete the tests.
German service members must pass the badge’s requirements once a year, Engels said, but not at the required levels for getting a gold, silver or bronze medal. “There is a basic passing requirement, which is not worth earning a badge for it,” he said, “but it proves that you’re still proficient in your basic military skills.”
Tech. Sgt. Melissa Kagels, assigned to the Air Force’s 314th Training Squadron, was the U.S. military’s main organizer for the badge, and she said that not only does the badge give service members a chance to test their own physical abilities versus that of other countries, it also enhances camaraderie among service members from different branches of the U.S. military and an allied nation.
“You have people from every service working together and encouraging each other in these competitions,” Kagels said. “It’s also an opportunity to get to know our foreign partners.”
Service members who earned the badge said they welcomed the opportunity to focus on their tactical skills, challenge themselves and learn how the German armed forces trains.
Spc. Heather Drury, a gold medal recipient assigned to the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion, said testing for the badge allowed her to shake up her routine and focus on her tactical skills in a way that was fun and challenging.
“It was worthwhile to me,” Drury said. “It was interesting to see the similarities and the differences [between how the U.S. and the German armed forces train].”
Meanwhile, Pvt. Joseph Prendergast, also a gold medal recipient assigned to the 229th MI Bn., said he enjoyed earning the badge because of the tactical skills involved, and he recommends it to other service members because it is a good way to challenge themselves and showcase their skills.
“You show your command who you are through your actions without having to explain it to them,” Prendergast said.
During the ceremony, Engels and Kagels thanked everyone who helped with the events, including Detective Christopher Salopek from the local Del Rey Oaks Police Department for his help with the pistol qualification; Engels’ daughters Lara, 15, and Melina, 11, who helped record laps around the NPS pond during the ruck march and cheered on service members; and Anne Buike, an intern with the Pathways Internship Program who conducted research for the badge.
Engels also noted the significance of the ceremony’s location.
“The location of the ceremony is particularly symbolic of the special relationship between the U.S. and Germany,” Engels said. “We are gathered near some remnants of the Berlin Wall inside a U.S. military installation, which makes the ceremony all the more extraordinary and remarkable.”