WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Thirty-five Airmen had the opportunity to participate in the German Armed Forces proficiency badge challenge Jan. 31 through Feb. 3 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Within the U.S. military, the GAFPB is one of the few approved and most sought-after foreign awards.
For soldiers in the Bundeswehr, or the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Germany, the GAFPB is a yearly requirement that offers opportunities to qualify throughout the year. It tests their combat readiness through challenging physical feats and a timed pistol qualification. The goal is to earn a bronze, silver or gold badge.
Master Sgt. Fred Giess, German Army Liaison Staff non-commissioned officer administrator, is one of the two Germans assigned to oversee the GAFPB.
“What we really love about the GAFPB competition is that it’s a one-week event here, so it’s really competitive.” Giess said. “It brings everyone together so they can concentrate on the physical fitness part and the shooting. I really like that idea.”
Due to previous COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s GAFPB event has been four years in the making. The Army hosted the last event, held at Wright-Patterson in 2015, so transitioning the competition to the Air Force this year took a lot of hard work and coordination.
“It’s something different; we set it up like a competition and it will be a challenge,” said lead coordinator Master Sgt. Joseph McDowell, 88th Security Forces Squadron non-commissioned officer in charge of operations. “We have the opportunity to host our German NATO counterparts and show them what we can do.”
On the first day, participants arrived at the USO, signed in and showed proof that they have completed both Tactical Casuality Combat Care training within the last three years and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives training within the last year.
After signing in and listening to the pre-event briefing, 2nd Lt. Hannah Parker, 88th Communications Squadron combat communications officer, was excited about the idea of representing female Airmen at the competition.
“I think it would be a great opportunity,” Parker said. “Not many women even signed up for it, so I want to show that I can compete with the men and maybe get gold.”
Captain Randolph Abaya, National Air and Space Intelligence Center ballistic missile analyst, also hopes to participate in such a prestigious and rare test of fitness.
“The German Armed Forces proficiency badge is a pretty unique badge because it’s one of the few foreign badges that U.S. military members can wear. That’s something I want to be a part of.”
During day two, Airmen were split into 19 heats and were required to swim 100-meters in under four minutes while wearing their uniform and then doff their OCPs and throw them over the side of the pool without the assistance of the pool walls.
A swimming challenge is out of the norm for Air Force members, but many Airmen were excited to push themselves and see what they were capable of.
“I enjoyed every minute of it. It was nice to be able to put myself to the test,” said 1st Lt. Jacob Nixon, 88th Force Support Squadron officer in charge of career development. “I'll definitely remember this forever.”
Day three started in the morning at the 88 SFS firing range, where Airmen were timed as they used an M9 handgun to hit at least seven out of the 10 targets at different distances with target changes.
Several Airmen were nervous about using the older model handgun for the shooting portion of the GAFPB instead of the newer model they’re used to training with. But Capt. Austin Drake, Air Force Materiel Command security forces inspection chief, explained that apprehension should not stop Airmen from trying something new.
“You’re going to miss all the shots you don’t take, so you might as well put yourself out there and give it your best,” Drake said. “Worst case scenario, you learn some of your strengths, you identify some of your weakness and you’ll be better for it in the long run.”
In the afternoon, participants completed the basic fitness test. The BFT required a minimum of eleven 10-meter sprints in 54 seconds or less, a 25-second minimum flex-arm hang and a 1000-meter run in under 5 minutes and 35 seconds.
A few of the Airmen competing trained and prepared together before the competition.
“Some of us are a little older, our joints are a little creakier and our jobs are very demanding, so training by ourselves can be kind of hard,” said Chief Master Sgt. Benjamin Seekell, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center first sergeant. “Chief Newton brought us all together so we could train during the same time and encourage each other. If we hadn’t had that, we wouldn’t have done as well as we did.”
The last day kicked off at 6:45 a.m. with everyone weighing their ruck packs to ensure that they were a minimum of 33 pounds. When the ruck started at 7 a.m., it was still dark as Airmen started their 3.73-mile, 5.6-mile or 7.46-mile trek depending on whether they were going for bronze, silver or gold.
Giess enjoyed the camaraderie as he participated alongside his American counterparts.
"I love it, working close with the Americans, going through hard times together and pushing yourself. It’s always a great thing,” Giess said.
Towards the end of the ruck, snow showers didn’t stop Airmen from finishing strong.
After completing the ruck, Benjamin Seekell, AFLCMC first sergeant, felt optimistic about how the difficult challenge could make Airmen stronger in more ways than one.
“The only time we get better, the only time we improve, is when we get out of our comfort zone,” Seekell said. “We learn something about ourselves we didn’t know before; we learn that we can, and that’s an infectious mentality.”
After the scores were tallied up, everyone fell into formation at the 88 SFS building to be awarded their German Armed Forces proficiency badges. Four Airmen received gold, 16 received silver and eight received bronze.
“It’s a little more daunting as a female to think that you can compete in events like this, but we were all out there pushing each other, and the camaraderie is what makes it amazing,” said Lt. Col. Amy Justus, 88th Comptroller Squadron commander, who received silver.
After earning a gold badge, Drake reflected on the competition.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Drake said. “A lot of competitions that you see are usually isolated to a day or one event, but this was a whole week where you’re going through an assortment of challenges both physical and skill based. So you really feel accomplished at the end of the week once you’ve made it there. It’s been really rewarding.”
McDowell hopes to continue offering the opportunity to participate in the GAFPB to the Airmen at Wright-Patterson in the future.