STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. --
While scrolling through my email months ago, I read about a German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge qualification which was to be held on base by our Security Forces personnel over April UTA.
I consider myself someone who enjoys a challenge, and this seemed to be an attainable one for me. The qualification consisted of several different physically demanding events over three days, which at first didn’t sound as challenging as they ended up feeling.
I planned to train for each event, but life got in the way, and while I had been working out regularly I hadn’t done any training for the specific events.
The day came for the qualification to begin, and I was a little nervous but went about it as I did most challenges; “How hard can it be?”
My answer to how hard came in the form of 11x10 sprints from a belly down position followed by a flexed-arm hang and a 1,000-meter run.
Standing around the dining facility waiting for the first event with many much younger Airmen and a smattering of Soldiers, I started to have second thoughts about this challenge.
When my turn came I flopped down on the mat and sprinted with all the speed my 41-year-old legs had in them and just made it in time to try for the bronze badge.
The next event was a flexed-arm hang; I thought I needed to hang for at least 5 seconds to move on. I watched other Airmen hang for as much 1 minunte and 20 seconds; I was able to get a very shaky 14 seconds.
The next event I moved on to was the 1,000-meter run on the track, which amounted to two full laps around with another almost half a lap at a full-out run. Normally I am a leisurely runner which made this fast track run grueling.
As I loped around the track sucking wind like a horse in its last dying run, I once again had second thoughts about my decision to do this challenge. I completed the run in five minutes and thirty one seconds and went on.
The first challenge for day two was a swim in my uniform blouse and pants in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
To complete this part of the qualification I had to swim up and back twice in 4 minutes and then remove my uniform in deep water while treading water.
I knew this would be the most mentally challenging task for me because I hate the feeling of helplessness I have when I can’t touch the bottom of a pool.
With trepidation I jumped in and swam the required laps with a weird, formless, flap-like stroke which degraded to a stilted backstroke. I finished under the 4 minutes and tried to rest in a back float.
At this point I attempted to remove my sopping-wet ABU pants from my tired body while staying afloat. This feat proved too difficult for me, and I panicked when the sensation of being pulled under by my pants occurred, causing me to flail wildly and call out for help.
Since the swim was a pass/fail event I figured that I was finished, but I was told there would be an opportunity to re-take that part of the qualification in June when it would be given again at another base. I would also be able to re-take the initial three events for a better score.
I left the pool with disappointment, but my mood was buoyed with the knowledge that I would be allowed to try again and also complete the remainder of events.
The next event was a ruck march around our base with a 33-pound pack. The distance would depend on which medal you had qualified for in the initial three events.
I did the shortest distance which was 6K to qualify for a bronze medal. Those who qualified for silver had a 9K distance, and those who qualified for gold had a 12K distance.
The ruck march happened to fall on a winter-like spring day with gusting winds and brutally cold temperatures. I marched into the wind with my heavy pack as fast as I could without realizing that my pace needed to be faster than it was.
With a little group cheering me on, I ran up the hill to complete the march in 59:45 with 15 seconds to spare before I would have been disqualified.
The next day I had to qualify on the 9 mm pistol at an indoor gun range. I had to hit each of the three targets at least one time. I hit all three targets and hit two of them twice, qualifying for silver in that category.
Over the course of three days I attempted each event with the knowledge that I may not make it in time or have enough speed or skill to get a medal.
The fact that I have to wait to re-take portions of the qualification doesn’t take away from the pride I feel for completing it.
The turnout for this year’s German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge was 39 Airmen and Soldiers; 27 of those qualified for a medal and 12 will have to re-take portions of the qualification to earn their badge.
I will be there in June to complete what I started and hopefully get a medal. Remember to congratulate your fellow wingmen on a difficult challenge completed and encourage those that still plan on finishing in June.