For a group of Soldiers in the National Capital Region, March 3-17 was a challenging and busy time. These Soldiers normally spend their work days maintaining, piloting and serving as flight crews aboard the Army executive jet fleet.

For two weeks in March, a number of these Soldiers were grounded from day-to-day operations aboard the gulfstream jets.

The Soldiers, assigned to the U.S. Army Priority Air Transport command at Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility, Md., participated in a military proficiency event hosted by the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces).

''The purpose of this event is the opportunity for American servicemembers to receive the German Armed Forces Troop Proficiency Badge," said Staff Sgt. Russell Papazian, noncommissioned officer in charge of the event and a member of USAPAT.

''The event gives American military personnel the opportunity to earn a foreign service award, build esprit de corps and expand cultural awareness with our foreign counterparts," Papazian said.

Papazian said Army, Air Force, National Guard, Reserve and ROTC components were represented at the event.

He estimated there were 100 servicemembers at the march.

''The road march was an eight-mile hike over hilly terrain and through wooded areas," said Papazian.

Other events included: a 200-meter swim, a high or long-jump, 100-meter sprint, a shot-put event, 300-meter run and pistol shooting event.

''There are criteria for each of the events in order to meet the minimum standard and win either a bronze, silver or gold medal," said Papazian.

''We had six Soldiers here in the NCR win gold medals as well as a subordinate unit in Hawaii - USAPAT Flight Detachment with 14 members there participating. They won gold as well," said Papazian.

Papazian said the event was particularly challenging for one Soldier, Sgt. Tyrone Barrow, a food service specialist serving as a flight steward with USAPAT.

''He had to work harder than anyone else to earn the award, particularly because he has a fear of water."

Barrow, one of the six Soldiers winning gold medals at the event, had a scare in deep water when learning to swim as a child.

''I thought I could handle it [the deep end of the pool] when I was 11, but I panicked and since then, I've always shied away from water," said Barrow.

To qualify for the medal, Barrow had to pass all the events, including the 200-meter swim.

''I had to put in extra work when training to qualify for the swimming event," Barrow said.

The Soldier said he spent two months before the event preparing physically.

In addition to taking swimming lessons with some of the stronger swimmers from his company, Barrow did extra running and other exercises.

''I even changed my diet to increase protein," he said.

Barrow admitted he had to perform the swimming event twice.

''I didn't qualify my first try and thirty minutes later, the grader told me he'd disregard my score if I wanted to try again." Barrow said he dog paddled and did the breast stroke to complete the event in the allotted time.

''This is a very sought after award because it's one of the few the Army gets to compete for," said Barrow.

''The German Soldiers are some of the most professional and polite people I've ever met."

Barrow said he felt honored he could compete for this event.

''I feel privileged because not everyone gets to compete for this award. It's a very sought after decoration," said Barrow.