By U.S. Army Cpt.
Nicholas Soroka, ASG-QA, HHC commander
DOHA, Qatar - In a 20-year career, few soldiers get the chance to earn a foreign award, especially one as coveted as the German armed forces proficiency badge.
However, recently on Camp As Sayliyah, Master Sgt. Mario Martinez had that rare opportunity and was challenged technically and tactically in a way most soldiers only wish to experience in their careers. An infantry soldier for 19 years, Martinez was no stranger to adversity.
Sponsored by the Bundeswehr, the German army, many desire the German armed forces proficiency badge because it displays prominently on their Army service uniform, but unforgiving standards and international coordination in today's high-tempo Army at war make it hard to find. Although stationed in Germany, the home of the Bundeswehr, Camp As Sayliyah would be Martinez's first opportunity to earn the coveted badge.
"It's something I never thought I'd see, especially here on deployment" said Martinez.
He and every candidate knew they faced a significant challenge. The German proficiency badge tests eight aspects of a soldier's holistic fitness.
"Every soldier has their strengths and weaknesses. The GAFPB tests them all," said Martinez.
To earn the badge, he would have to undergo three days of intensive testing separating participants into four classes: gold, silver, bronze and those not receiving the badge.
The first day of testing, designed for those working day-shift hours, started Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 at the CAS pool.
"The swim is a big discriminator. It's easy to see who's comfortable in the water and who's going to struggle earning the badge," said 2nd Lt. Mark Garcia, a Gold GAFPB holder and event grader.
Participants also took a first aid test proctored by the troop medical clinic noncommissioned officer in charge, Sgt. 1st Class Gappa, who is a holder of the German Shutzenshnur badge for weapons proficiency, another coveted German award that U.S. soldiers may earn.
Pistol qualification followed the next morning, aided by local special forces operators who normally train the Qatari military, but this day worked closely with making the U.S. soldiers dreams a reality. For those waiting to qualify, the operators also trained basic and intermediate pistol marksmanship culminating with participants individually clearing a multi-room shoot-house under a hostage scenario.
With only a few hours rest, the candidates then tested their sports skills with a high-jump, 100-meter sprint, 3-km distance run, and shot-put. For those candidates that passed all of the eight mandatory events, the next morning held a 33-pound ruck march from 3.8 to 7.5 miles; the distance depending on the level of badge. As he crossed the 7.5-mile finish line, Martinez celebrated earning his badge, but for many, the events were still not finished.
The next weekend, Feb. 21-23, held the same events designed to fit into the schedule of those soldiers working on the night shift. It also served as a second-chance for those who needed to make-up events or improve their scores.
Of the 87 participants who started in the first week and the 69 who started the second week, he was one of the 101 to earn the proficiency badge. Martinez and all 156 candidates seized a rare opportunity and in doing so created great memories, built camaraderie and esprit de corps, and some could now proudly wear the German armed forces proficiency badge for the rest of their military careers.