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NEWS | Sept. 1, 2023

Endurance Soldiers earn German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

More than 70 Soldiers assigned to the Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team earned the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge after three days of competition during their drill weekend Aug. 18-20, 2023, at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. 

The GAFPB is a decoration of the Bundeswehr, the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Germany, and is awarded in gold, silver and bronze versions depending on the success level of the Soldier competing for the badge. To earn the GAFPB, the individual must pass pre-set minimums in events testing their physical fitness, marksmanship and military knowledge. 

Ninety-one Soldiers competed for the badge, and 72 met the minimum requirements to earn the GAFPB. Of the 72, 11 Soldiers earned the gold badge, 42 earned the silver and 19 received the bronze. 

“The battalion performed extremely well,” said Maj. Stephen Holden, the batallion’s S3 operations officer and full-time officer-in-charge. “Overall, there was an 80% pass rate, which exceeded expectations. The Germans usually see a 60 to 70% pass rate when they facilitate GAFPB events. I’m proud of the Soldiers’ determination, grit and intestinal fortitude to do their very best.”

The event kicked off with a swimming challenge, during which Soldiers had to swim 100 meters in uniform, then doff their uniform top and bottom and throw them out of the pool, all while treading water. Soldiers also had to pass a physical fitness challenge, which included a flexed arm hang, sprints and a 1,000-meter run. Other events include a pistol marksmanship test, a medical test, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear drill and a ruck march, all conducted under the tutelage of host members of the German military. 

“I think it’s a very good event. It’s been competitive,” said Spc. Bryce Moore, one of the BEB’s engineers. “Swimming in the pool was different, with the uniform on, that was a first time. It’s good training on stuff we haven’t done before.”

In addition to the individual awards, Holden said the entire battalion will benefit from this unique event. 

“The biggest benefit for the Soldiers competing in the GAFPB Event and events like it is it exposes Soldiers with our foreign NATO allies and to build professional relationships,” said Holden. “It’s very seldom you get to work with foreign soldiers stateside unless you’re mobilized overseas. This event provided the Soldiers an understanding of the significance of building relationships with our foreign partners and the significance of building and maintaining those relationships for future missions.”

In addition to the 229th engineers, a handful of other VNG Soldiers also participated in the GAFPB events, including the former commander of the 229th BEB, Lt. Col. Beau Mason. For Mason, competing for the badge is a career highlight. 

“Ever since I was at VMI and commissioned as a second lieutenant, one of the things I wanted to do when I heard about this badge was compete for it,” said Mason, currently the Virginia Army National Guard’s G1 personnel officer. “Through deployments, operational tempo and schools, whenever the opportunity came up, I haven’t been able to compete for it. Throughout my career, it’s just been a goal I’ve had. Just getting out here with the guys and being able to compete means two things. One, never let go of your goals. Two, anyone can compete for this, it’s not restricted by rank or MOS.”

The 229th’s leadership worked for a long time to help get this event organized, including meeting with the German representatives for coordination. Holden said their German counterparts impressed them. 

“I was very impressed with our German counterparts and specifically the personnel that supported our event,” said Holden. “Sgt. Maj. Behrendt and Lt. Otto were great hosts when we conducted multiple syncs with them in Reston, Virginia, to ensure we were planning the best event possible. The four German soldiers that supported the actual event were professional soldiers who ensured the event was memorable for the VaARNG Soldiers that competed for the GAFPB.”

Overall, Both Mason and Holden said the event was great for battalion readiness and morale. 

“Being out here, seeing these guys do it, seeing their level of motivation, is phenomenal,” said Mason. “This is what it’s all about: Taking care of Soldiers, training Soldiers and giving them the opportunity to succeed.”

“It was a pleasure helping plan and execute an event like the GAFPB because of the smiles you see on the last day,” said Holden. “It’s more than getting the badge, it’s seeing the Soldiers get to experience something they may be lucky to experience in their careers. It’s a great retention tool, which allows Soldiers to earn a badge, but ultimately it’s the experience they will remember for a lifetime.”

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