By Sgt. Apryl N. Bowman, 24th Press Camp Headquarters:
(El Paso, Texas, Oct 26,2017)
In the spirit of marksmanship training and partnership, the German air force hosted Fort Bliss Soldiers in a Schützenschnur shooting competition here Oct. 17 through Friday.
More than 150 Soldiers participated in the competition to earn the German Armed Forces Badge for Weapons Proficiency, which comes in three classifications – bronze, silver and gold, with gold being the highest.
The coveted German Schützenschnur badge is a decoration of the Bundeswehr, the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Officers and enlisted can earn the badge, but only enlisted Soldiers can wear the distinctive award on their service uniforms.
Participating Soldiers started out the first day of the competition by firing the G36 5.56 x 45mm assault rifle at pop-up targets under a strict timeline while progressing up their firing lane.
On the next day of the competition, the Soldiers fired the Heckler and Koch P8, a 9mm pistol similar to the U.S. 9mm M9-Beretta. The competitors had to shoot pop-up targets at a 25 meters distance with the pistol in the standing, kneeling and prone firing positions.
“I’ve never heard any Soldiers come back and say those are bad weapons; I don’t like them,” said Master Sgt. Soren Wiebe, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the event. “They all love the weapons because they are so different than what they are used to shooting – the M4 and M16.”
Sgt. James Burson, an infantryman and a small arms fire instructor assigned to 2nd Battalion, 364th Training Support Battalion, 5th Armored Brigade, said he was honored to participate in the prestigious event.
“It’s an honor to work with the German military,” Burson said. “It’s definitely a great experience to work with our ally. This competition is proof that the fundamentals of marksmanship are true across the spectrum, no matter what weapon system you use.”
The competition is a result of almost 15 years of cooperation between U.S. Army and German forces – and a friendship between allies that has built up for decades.
“This is the perfect event that started from good communication and we have to continue that,” Wiebe said. “For us the biggest thing is the interaction with the Soldiers and learning them; they all have different stories.”
According to 2nd Lt. Jessica Beatty, a fire control platoon leader assigned to Battery D, 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, the Germans were very thorough while training the participants in the competition.
“They really don’t want to see us fail which is why they gave us so much preliminary marksmanship instructions,” Beatty said. “They are super helpful and have been great with training us.”
On the last day of the competition, the participants who successfully qualified were awarded their specific proficiency badges according to their qualification scores during a graduation ceremony at the Benavidez Patterson “All Airborne” 82nd Airborne Division Association, presided by Lt. Col. Henri Neubert, the German Air Force Air Defense Center’s director of training.
“To award these Soldiers and to see how proud and thankful they are to get this award is worth every minute of work we put into this event,” Wiebe said.
Burson, who was awarded the gold proficiency badge, said he won’t forget this monumental moment in his career.
“It feels so good and it’s definitely an honor and pleasure to represent the 2/364 ‘Black Lions’ and the small arms team,” Burson said. “Train the force.”
The Germans have been a part of the Fort Bliss community for nearly 60 years and will continue to hold the Schützenschnur as appreciation to the U.S. Army Soldiers.
“We have to thank the Fort Bliss community for having us,” Wiebe said. “I love this event and we love to be out here.
“It makes me proud, and pretty thankful when many Soldiers participate. So many American Soldiers are interested in achieving this award, to participate here, and just interact with us, and that shows us they really appreciate and are grateful that we do this.”