JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. — Swimming has never been a problem for me in the past, but this time was different.
As I walked out of the locker room and saw the line of U.S. Army Soldiers and U.S. Navy Sailors waiting and watching as fellow participants struggled to complete the swim, a feeling of anxiousness started to overwhelm me.
I’ve never had to swim in full uniform. I also had physical training gear on underneath, because not only was I supposed to swim 100 meters, I also had to shed my battle uniform in the deep end of the pool while treading water.
“What have I gotten myself into?” I thought. Then it was my turn.
I jumped in and the proctor yelled, “Graders ready? Participants ready? GO!”
I took a deep breath and went under. As I pushed off the wall, all those negative feelings went away.
This test was just one of several at Fort Eustis, Virginia, that was required for Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors to earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge.
The badge is a symbol that the recipient met standards set forth by the German military in physical fitness, marksmanship and first aid; designated through bronze, silver and gold achievement levels.
Ft. Eustis hosted a qualification program Nov. 1 through Nov. 4, 2016 for approximately 50 participants.
When my supervisor brought the opportunity to earn the badge to me, I was excited because it gave me a chance to challenge myself physically and mentally.
The GAFPB program was comprised of a series of evolutions spread over four days that tested a participant’s physical and mental stamina.
Day 1 entailed the initial fitness test that would determine what level I could qualify for. The test involved an 11×10 sprint, flexed-arm hang and a 1,000-meter run.
Day 2 started with a written test on first-aid knowledge, then we moved into a “go or no-go” test of donning a gas mask within nine seconds. After the gas mask test, all participants headed to the Anderson Field House pool and completed the 100 meter swim and de-robe evolution.
On the third day, I had to face the most intimidating evolution by far — the road march with a 35 pounds ruck.
The road march
In my short military career, I never attempted a road march, so I had no idea how to pace myself, when I should run or walk, or how fast I needed to go. With the blow of a whistle the march started. Since I had no idea what I was doing, I just fell behind the rest.
As I made it to the first turn-around, I had banded with an Army specialist and sergeant major who helped push me. They made sure I would finish the nine kilometer in the one hour and 30 minutes time limit allowed to earn silver.
The specialist would call out the time, distance and pace we were on. Knowing the time and distance helped mentally when I started to feel the blister on my foot and the muscles burn in my legs. All I wanted to do was walk in, but having the two Soldiers next to me pushing me to run was a tremendous motivational factor.
An Airman evolved
The final day was pistol qualification. In order to qualify for bronze, I had to hit all three targets at least once. For silver, I had to have five shots on target. Luckily for me, I am a pretty good shot.
Even though I doubted my ability to not only complete all evolutions, but also earn the GAFPB bronze, silver or gold, I did exceptionally well. While the final results are still pending, I’m anticipating silver.
I also learned the type of people that are in the Army. No matter what the situation is, they will be there to help and keep motivating a fellow service member.
After this experience, not only will I have earned the GAFPB, I’ve also gained valuable insights about myself and my career. No matter the situation, learning to overcome self-doubt, pushing myself to physical limits, and trusting Wingmen or Battle Buddies will help me achieve whatever I set my mind to.