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Allied unity: Soldiers earn German proficiency badge

FORT BENNING, Ga. — Forty U.S. Soldiers survived a series of events on land and water this week to earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge, one of the few foreign awards that can be worn by the American military.

The 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, conducted the testing July 19-21 for cadre from 198th Infantry Brigade units and some members of the 209th Military Police Detachment. It included swimming at Carey Pool, track and field at Shaw High School’s Kinnett Stadium, a 9 mm pistol shoot at Buchanan Range and 7.2-mile road march.

A total of 63 Soldiers started the bid. Among those who made the cut, 32 were awarded gold and eight got silver. Open to all ranks, the badge is presented in gold, silver and bronze standards.

“The Soldiers in Germany know what it means to earn this badge, and it's the same like the jump wings,” said SGM Bernd Rabenstein of the German Infantry liaison office, who helped coordinate the testing. “If you have something to share, you become a partner, comrade and friend on a very professional level. And I think in our time now, where we fight shoulder-to-shoulder for freedom, we can use every friend we can get.”

Known as “das Abzeichen für Leistungen im Truppendienst” in Germany, the decoration is earned for high marks in strength, endurance, cardio fitness and marksmanship. Soldiers compete in seven different categories.

All must complete the 200-meter swim, target shoot and road march with 32-pound packs. Within the remaining four categories, candidates can choose from a “grocery list” of events that test various levels of physical fitness, said CSM Bob Boudnik of 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment.

“I wanted to offer my Soldiers the opportunity to compete for it,” said Boudnik, who’s about to become the brigade operations sergeant major. “This badge can be worn on our dress greens. … All allied forces are eligible to test for it.”

Swimming kicked things off Monday, and that was followed by track and field in the afternoon at Kinnett Stadium, where heat in the upper 90s became a big factor. Rabenstein called the 3,000- and 5,000-meter events a “run through hell.”

About 15 Soldiers were eliminated the first day.

“A 200-meter swim is no joke — you do get tired,” said SSG Carlos Cotto, a drill sergeant with 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, who later finished his 1.86-mile run in 14:10, about 20 seconds under the cap. “The track was rough. It got a little humid, and as it got hotter, that made it harder to breathe. But you just suck it up.

“It’s a lot of fun, though. It’s exciting to come out and try something different.”

SSG Chris Gebert of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, said he’d never heard of the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge but saw it as a good opportunity. Opening day, however, turned out to be more than he bargained for.

“It was the biggest challenge,” he said. “I haven’t swum in a long time. It about killed me.”

1LT Steven Breen of C Company, 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, said the Germans are highly aware of different body types and compositions because they offer more adaptable standards. For example, while the U.S. Army’s physical fitness test is locked in at two miles, their troops can run longer or shorter distances, but under varying paces.

“They find alternative ways to challenge you,” Breen said. “I like the test. It also provides an opportunity to demonstrate unity with our NATO allies. We get to examine how another military trains their Soldiers and ask ourselves, ‘Can we adopt or incorporate it into our own training?’

“It’s definitely unique for a U.S. Soldier to earn this badge.”

An awards ceremony took place July 22 at 198th Infantry Brigade headquarters on Sand Hill.