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SC service members take on GAFPB competition

German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competitors sprint during the ruck portion of the test at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, South Carolina, Nov. 10, 2019.

German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competitors sprint during the ruck portion of the test at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, South Carolina, Nov. 10, 2019. Participants carried 35-pound rucksacks up to 7.5 miles on the final day of the competition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Destinee Sweeney)

A German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge (GAFPB) competitor races to the finish line during the 100-meter swim in Columbia, South Carolina (S.C.), Nov. 8, 2019.

A German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge (GAFPB) competitor races to the finish line during the 100-meter swim in Columbia, South Carolina (S.C.), Nov. 8, 2019. The S.C. Army National Guard hosts a GAFPB competition every year over Veteran’s Day weekend. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Destinee Sweeney)

A German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge (GAFPB) competition proctor, right, reviews a participant’s target at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Nov. 9, 2019.

A German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge (GAFPB) competition proctor, right, reviews a participant’s target at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Nov. 9, 2019. Participants were required to shoot a five out of five amongst three targets to receive the gold badge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Destinee Sweeney)

A U.S. Airman sits on the edge of the track after a 1000-meter sprint at the McCrady Training Center in Eastover, South Carolina, Nov. 9, 2019.

A U.S. Airman sits on the edge of the track after a 1000-meter sprint at the McCrady Training Center in Eastover, South Carolina, Nov. 9, 2019. The Airman competed in an annual German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competition, which tested physical fitness and tactical skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Destinee Sweeney)

A U.S. Soldier grips a pull-up bar during the flexed arm hang portion of a German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competition at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, South Carolina, Nov. 9, 2019.

A U.S. Soldier grips a pull-up bar during the flexed arm hang portion of a German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge competition at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, South Carolina, Nov. 9, 2019. Competitors included active-duty Airmen and Soldiers as well as Guardsmen and Reservists. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Destinee Sweeney)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --

Adrenaline courses through veins and bare toes grasp onto wet tiles as nearly 200 service members encircle a swimming pool, awaiting their chance to prove themselves.

Many competitors began training for this event months ago, but only now as they struggle to keep their head above the cold water will they learn if they truly have what it takes to earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge.

“Everything I’ve done in the military up to this point, I give it 100 percent no matter what and let the chips fall where they may,” said Airman 1st Class Kyle Hartley, 28th Operational Weather Squadron weather forecaster. “I’m going to work exceedingly hard to get myself to where I think I need to be. At the end of the day, if I walked away with bronze or silver or nothing, as long as I put in 100 percent and that’s what the outcome was, I’d be fine with it.”

Over 10 units competed, including both Army and Air Force branches as well as active, guard and reserve components. Team Shaw participants included service members from U.S. Army Central Command, U.S. Air Forces Central, and various units in the 20th Fighter Wing.

The GAFPB Competition is designed to build camaraderie amongst service members, test physical fitness and tactical skills and bolster international collaboration. This year’s contest was held Nov. 8-10 at the McCrady Training Center in Eastover, South Carolina.

“I sit at a desk most of the time and forecast the weather, we don’t often get out there and get our hands dirty,” said Hartley. “I wanted to see what I could do.”

In addition to challenging himself, Hartley, who frequently supports Soldiers downrange from behind a computer screen, also appreciated being able to work with Soldiers on the ground for the first time.

The first day consisted of a 100-meter swim while wearing a combat uniform within four minutes. Afterward, swimmers were required to remove their uniforms and toss the components out of the pool without assistance.

“The swimming was surprisingly hard. I think of myself as a good swimmer so I fell back on that. It completely gassed you,” said Hartley.

The following morning, participants tested their strength and cardio, willing themselves through an ice-cold flexed arm hang test, an 11x10 meter shuttle run and a 1000-meter sprint. During the afternoon, the pistol qualification portion challenged competitor’s M9 pistol skills

Hartley said he was lucky enough to get his hands on the M9 for the first time prior during the Excellence In Competition hosted at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., the previous week. The 20th Security Forces Squadron contest proved invaluable and gave him the skills needed to shoot a perfect five out of five for the qualification.

The final day held a ruck march, plenty of blisters and the final go for the gold.

“I have about four foreign awards, and this by far has been the toughest one for me,” said Staff Sgt. Devin Fowler, GAFPB event noncommissioned officer in charge. “It’s physical training at the end of the day.”

Altogether, 27 Team Shaw Airmen participated. Three Airmen received bronze badges, 12 received silver badges, and three received gold badges, with some planning to carry on the competition as proctors and others vowing to return and challenge themselves once more.

Fowler said events like this are instrumental to fostering joint environments downrange.

“It’s like the old school saying ‘The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.’ If you build that relationship with Germans here … when you go downrange you already have a baseline understanding of what they expect. You have no clue who that German soldier is or you have no clue who that American Soldier is but you already have a common ground with one another.”

The S.C. National Guard is one of two units guaranteed this coveted competition annually, and has begun to traditionally hold it over Veteran’s Day weekend. Next year the event coordinators plan to have around 300 participants.