USAF ISR Airmen ace German AF Proficiency Badge Competition

  • Published
  • By Matthew McGovern
Three Airmen from the 16th Air Force’s 480th Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group earned the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge at a German-hosted competition, Fort Eisenhower, Georgia, Jan. 22-26, reinforcing the long-standing partnership with German allies.

Fourteen of 17 Airmen and Soldiers passed a series of eight events, administered by German Armed Forces Liaisons. The events test strength, endurance, accuracy, and adaptability, and if successful, provides Airmen a permanent badge on their uniforms. 

Senior Airman Thomas McClenathan, 3d Intelligence Squadron, Senior Airman Omar Perez-Castellanos, and Senior Airman Allexis Anderson, both from the 451st Intelligence Squadron, respectively secured gold, silver, and bronze badges based on points earned throughout the competition.

“This is a phenomenal achievement and will become a permanent decoration contained in their military records and is undoubtedly something they will forever be proud of,” said Col. Matthew Norton, 480th ISRG commander. “The badge in German is formally called the Abzeichen für besondere Leistungen im Truppendienst, which translates to, award for special performance in military service.”

Training, exercise, and competitions with allies and partners increase combat effectiveness and grow readiness, two 16th Air Force priorities, but also, “…maintaining an active lifestyle is the key to health and longevity,” said Anderson. “It’s a priority for me to stay active and challenge myself, this competition checked all my boxes.”

The competition originates from when military proficiency badges were introduced in Prussia in the 19th century. These badges represent discipline, skill, and professionalism within the German military. The German Armed Forces opened the competition to foreign military around the globe to foster intercultural exchange and cooperation.

“The German Liaisons here at Fort Eisenhower contribute to building mutual trust needed for effective transatlantic armaments cooperation by way of continuous dialogue with the U.S. and Canadian partners,” said Anderson. “One of the many ways they build connections with people here is through the GAFPB competition.”

“Train as soon as you can, and as often as you can if you are shooting for gold,” said Perez-Castellanos. “The best time frame for training to meet the gold standard is two months, if you’re already in decent shape. However, if you would like a feel of what the GAFPB is like, sign up as soon as you can.”

Some of the events are similar to U.S. Air Force physical training; for the basic fitness test portion, participants are required to complete three fitness tests in 90 minutes or less. This includes 11-by-10-meter sprint, a flexed arm hang, and a 1,000-meter run.

“Even if you’re eliminated or fail to meet the gold standard you will at least know where you stand and what you need to improve,” he said. “Don't be afraid of failure, be afraid of never having tried.”

Specific GAFPB events include Combat Lifesaver Training, a basic fitness test, an HK P30 pistol marksmanship event and a 100-meter swim. The standards for passing are high.

To pass the swim event, competitors must swim in military uniform with the physical training uniform underneath, upon completion they must remove their outer uniform without touching the side of the pool.  

Perez-Castellanos’ first GAFPB swim attempt was difficult, “I failed the swim qualification and was eliminated from the rest of the event,” he said. “At that time, I only started seriously training two weeks prior, not enough time to bring my skills to meeting the standard.”

Before this competition, Perez-Castellanos practiced three times a week, “Within a month and a half, I was able to bring my swim time from 100 meters in six minutes to 100 meters in 3 minutes and 40 seconds, and I was able to bring my shooting proficiency to meeting the gold standard for that event.”

The competition culminates in a seven-mile ruck hike where participants carry 33-pound rucksacks across the finish line.

“Personally, I had a fantastic time participating in the competition and would recommend it to anyone who is even slightly interested,” said Anderson. “It’s a great way to meet new people and just overall a whole lot of fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously, have lots of laughs, and enjoy the moment. It’s a unique opportunity to represent your branch and unit.”

Any U.S. servicemember can participate after obtaining an evaluation report from their commanding officer recognizing their physical and moral standards to show they are both physically and morally fit.

The 480th ISR Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, provides a comprehensive set of ISR capabilities for the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), as well as the national cryptologic, information technology, cyber ISR, tactical analysis, Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC)-support, and national-to-tactical signals intelligence integration.  
The 480th ISRW is functionally aligned to span the full spectrum of ISR operations, from humanitarian assistance to major theater conflict, leveraging federated mission partners to synchronize timely, relevant intelligence regionally aligned to support combatant command operations.