Challenge accepted: U.S. service members compete for German badge

A U.S. Army Soldier participates in the ruck portion of the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017.

A U.S. Army Soldier participates in the ruck portion of the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017. To earn a GAFPB, services members had to take a fitness test, complete a ruck march, swim in military uniform and complete a marksmanship test. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Areca T. Bell)

U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command hosted a week-long German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017.

A U.S. Army Soldier fires a 9mm Beretta automatic pistol in the prone-unsupported position during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017. Members must fire two bullets in three different positions to qualify in the marksmanship event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Army Soldiers run during the ruck march portion of the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017.

U.S. Army Soldiers run during the ruck march portion of the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017. The GAFBP event consisted of a basic fitness test, 100 meter swim, pistol qualification and a ruck march. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command hosted a week-long German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017.

German army Staff Sgt. Tamar Doull, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command German army main liaison staff member, swims during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017. The 100-meter swim must be completed in full-duty uniform, minus cover and boots, in less than four minutes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Army Sgt. Raquel Nunez-Hedrick, German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competitor, dons her helmet before entering the shooting range at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017.

U.S. Army Soldiers participate in a ruck march during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017. To earn gold in this event members had to march 12 kilometers within 120 minutes, silver, nine kilometer within 90 minutes, bronze, six kilometers within 60 minutes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command hosted a week-long German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017.

U.S. Army Soldiers perform a flexed-arm hang during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017. With a minimum five-second hold requirement to pass, the GAFPB flexed-arm hang is just one of the three basic fitness test events. The other two are an 11x10-meter sprint within 60 seconds, and a 1,000 meter run within six minutes and 30 seconds. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Army Private 1st Class Mynez Nicholson, German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competitor, ruck marches for gold during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017.

U.S. Army Private 1st Class Mynez Nicholson, German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competitor, ruck marches for gold during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017. In order to earn gold in the ruck march, members had to ruck 12 kilometers within two hours. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command hosted a week-long German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017.

U.S. Army Soldiers sprint the 1,000 meter run during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017. The GAFPB follows a bronze, silver and gold ranking system used from the total of all six events– a 100-meter swim, 11x10 meter sprint, flexed arm hang, 1,000-meter run, ruck march with a 33-pound load and marksmanship test using the M9 pistol. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois)

U.S. Army Sgt. Raquel Nunez-Hedrick, German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competitor, dons her helmet before entering the shooting range at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017.

U.S. Army Sgt. Raquel Nunez-Hedrick, German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competitor, dons her helmet before entering the shooting range at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017. Nunez-Hedrick competed in the GAFPB evaluation, which involved an M9 pistol qualification. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Army Sgt. Raquel Nunez-Hedrick, German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competitor, dons her helmet before entering the shooting range at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017.
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A U.S. Army Soldier shoots an M9 pistol during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017. For the range qualification portion, participants shot in the standing, kneeling and prone positions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Army Soldiers ruck march during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017.
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U.S. Army Soldiers ruck march during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017. The GAFPB is a decoration of the Bunedwehr, the Armed Forces of the Federal German Republic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Army Soldiers ruck march during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017.
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U.S. Army Soldiers ruck march during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 19, 2017. The GAFBP evaluation consisted of a basic fitness test, swim in a military uniform, pistol qualification and a ruck march. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Army Soldiers shoot M9 pistols during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017.
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U.S. Army Soldiers shoot M9 pistols during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge evaluation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017. The pistol exercise was one of six GAFPB events, and involved participants firing two bullets in three different shooting positions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command hosted a week-long German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017.
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A U.S. Army Soldier runs carrying 33-pounds for the road march during the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Oct. 20, 2017. To earn gold in this event, the member must complete 12 kilometers within 120 minutes; silver, nine kilometers within 90 minutes; and bronze, six kilometers within 60 minutes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --

Imagine treading water in full-duty uniform after swimming four laps, running sprints and holding a chin-up for more than a minute. 

These are only three of the six events Joint Base Langley-Eustis service members completed to earn the prestigious German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge, one of the most sought after foreign awards approved to be worn on U.S. military uniforms.

An oval wreath of oak leaves with a German eagle at its center, either donned in gold, silver or bronze symbolizes the extensive annual test administered to German soldiers.  Agility, endurance, strength and mental toughness are necessary to earn this badge, as each physical event builds upon another to test overall abilities as warfighters.

The challenge

The week-long GAFPB challenge is open to all ranks, professions and branches, giving U.S. Army Soldiers, Air Force Airmen and German Army soldiers a chance to interact with fellow Armed Forces and coalition forces.

German Army Lt. Col. Ingo Beisse, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command German army liaison officer, enjoyed coordinating the assessment to give the almost 200 U.S. service members competing a sense of what it’s like for his soldiers in Europe.

“If you share a common set of memories and you know what it means, it brings you a little closer,” said Beisse. “We are getting so much from the Americans, being here, so this is a good option for us to give a little back.”

To earn the badge, participants need to meet the set standard for each event—a 100-meter swim, 11x10 meter sprint, flexed arm hang, 1,000-meter run, ruck march with a 33-pound load and marksmanship test using the M9 pistol.

The veteran

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Alice Park, U.S. Army School of Music Advanced Individual Training course manager, has earned the gold badge three times before. Even after training several months in advance, she said she still feels nervous before every event.

“I love being able to work toward something,” said Park. “Even though I have already done these three times, it doesn’t make it any easier at all. It’s still nerve-wracking and scary but it’s exciting. That’s why I want to keep doing this.”

When first faced with the challenge, Park was ill-prepared. She failed the 100-meter swim—a primary eliminator event for participants in the challenge.

The swim must be completed in full-duty uniform, minus cover and boots, in less than four minutes. Before exiting the pool, participants must also shed their outer garments down to their swimwear while treading water.

“After I failed the swim, I had two or three months before the make-up swim to train,” she said. “I swam every day and was able to pass. The feeling was amazing. Now, I try to swim throughout the year on a regular basis and train in my uniform a few months out.”

Now as a veteran of the competition hosted by TRADOC, Park finds herself in a coaching role for first-time competitors. Dispelling the belief that the competition is too difficult for some, she shares her experiences with future competitors and even helps prepare them for the challenge.

 “I enjoy being able to share what the challenge is like with new people,” she said. “I like ensuring them that it’s not as hard as they think and that they can do it.”

Although the event appears to be an individual challenge, Park said a team-like connection grows among participants.

“One thing I really enjoy is the morale-building aspect of supporting one another and cheering each other on throughout the different events,” said Park. “I recently learned the bulk of the participants were AIT students and I thought it was neat that they had the opportunity to participate. What a great way to ignite and motivate the young Soldiers at the start of their military career.”

Chasing her fourth gold badge, Park hopes to be an inspiration to other service members to take on the challenge.

“I aspire to be a leader that can inspire, encourage and guide other service members to be better,” exclaimed Park. “I’m a petite female and if I can do this, then everyone can!”

The rookie

“I would say going into the challenge, I felt a healthy combination of nervousness and excitement with a touch of absolute dread.”

Unlike Park, this was U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. David Neil Regner’s first experience with the international fitness test.

The newest member of the Air Combat Command Heritage of America Band took the opportunity to connect with his unit and become familiar with the joint community.

“As difficult as the challenge was, it gave me time to have some great conversations with my fellow Airmen, and even some Army Soldiers,” said the newly-appointed flight commander. “I met some wonderful people, heard fantastic stories and shared in some pretty good laughs.”

Regner said when made the serendipitous decision to participate in the challenge, he was clueless about what he was really getting into. Thankfully, he wasn’t going through the challenge alone, and began training in mid-September with three other Airmen in his unit.

Just as Park mentioned, the lieutenant had a difficult time with the swim, and didn’t even qualify on his first attempt.

“Don't go into the GAFPB without having first gone through each challenge on your own, especially the swim,” said Regner. “You'd think taking your clothes off in water would be simple – but you'd be wrong! It goes without saying, but the more you know, the better you'll prepare and the better you'll perform.”

With friendly competitive banter and enthusiastic cheers fueling a supportive environment, Regner connected with his fellow competitors. The flight commander felt the rewarding opportunity also enhanced his team’s readiness.

“Events like this one provide a unique opportunity for new connections,” said Regner. “Not only between Army and Air Force, but with foreign military too; creating a stronger fighting force.”

The results

Although the preliminary events end this week, some competitors will have the chance to requalify or get better scores during a make-up week. With the badge ceremony still several weeks away, all will have to wait for the final results in hopes they may be able to proudly wear the badge so many work so hard for.