NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. --
On Saturday, March 12, 2017, the mercury finally reached 1 degree Fahrenheit when participants met at Ft. Drum’s Magrath Sports Complex, ready to begin the day’s events. 84 Soldiers and Airmen would compete in an elimination-style tournament that would test their strength, endurance and fortitude.
Six Security Forces Airmen from Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station traveled to Ft. Drum, N.Y. to meet with 78 Soldiers from across the state. They arrived with training gear, rucksacks and determination, ready to face the sub-zero conditions of a north country winter. The reason? They were competing in the German Armed Forces Badge for military Proficiency. The goal? A coveted gold medal.
The competition, created by the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Germany, consisted of a six-event series that included: 11x10-meter sprint test, chin-up/flex-arm hang, 1000m run, 100m swim (in uniform), a pistol qualification, and a road march.
If a participant fell below gold-level qualifications in any one event, that subsequent level became the highest level badge he could attain. If a participant failed to meet minimum requirements in any event, he would be immediately disqualified from receiving any badge.
There were no easy events.
“Seeing guys that appear physically fit drop off--it kind of mentally broke you down,” said Master Sgt. Dominick Caito, 914th Security Forces, squadron commander for the event. You have to have the mental strength to persevere.”
Caito said that the shuttle run was more challenging than he would have expected. He attributed it to the fact that, as an Air Force, we don’t run sprints. The swim, however, was his most difficult event of the day.
“Everybody else is dropping out,” said Caito. “About half of the candidates ended up failing.”
Caito, who had his eyes set on the gold badge, was determined not to fail. He saw the others in his small group of Air Force Security Forces members qualify before him. However, Caito is not a strong swimmer. His pants caught around his ankles. The time limit was approaching.
“It’s a mental game,” Caito said. “Calming down. Relaxing. Breathing. Having an end goal to finish is what got me through that part of it.”
To Capt. Brian Rhoney, 914th Security Forces Operations Officer, the exercise was about more than attaining a badge. It was an opportunity to practice physical fitness and weapons proficiency.
“These are the barebones 3 and 5-level core tasks of our Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC),” said Rhoney, who participated in the event.
Rhoney added that in addition to reinforcing core-level tasks, it was also an opportunity to talk with other units from around the state.
“These are NYS Guard units,” said Rhoney. “We're going to be talking with them about how they’re functioning with the sequestration, how are they leveraging their assets, how are they training smarter in all of these constraints."
When asked what his major concerns were for the event, Capt. Rhoney had a succinct response, “the cold.”
His concern wasn’t unfounded. During the 7.46 mile road march, the weather had only risen to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Caito, who had successfully completed the swim portion of the exercise, had proceeded. He was finally on the last stretch of the road march when his legs began to cramp. He had no water and time was running out to finish the competition.
“My camelback actually froze,” said Caito. “I kept thinking ‘another mile to go.”
It was knowing that his five Air Force teammates were at the finish line that gave him the strength to continue. “It gave me that extra boost to get to the finish line.”
84 men began the day in sub-zero conditions in New York’s north country region with the goal of attaining the coveted gold German Armed Forces Badge for military Proficiency. 44 did not reach the end. Of the remaining 40, five were from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. Four received the bronze medal. Master Sgt. Cato, was one of only four recipients of the most-coveted, gold badge. All awards were earned in an incredibly austere environment.
“We stepped outside of our comfort zone and practiced our core Defender tasks of weapons proficiency, physical fitness, and the ability to shoot, move and communicate in a truly challenging climate,” said Rhoney. “I am incredibly proud of our team.”