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IU Army ROTC, out-of-state cadets to compete for ‘rare’ foreign badge


A participant takes part in the pistol shooting competition during a previous year’s proficiency test in Bloomington. Based on performances in various tests over the course of two days, participants earn a gold, silver or bronze badge. Courtesy Photo

Hundreds of ROTC cadets and military members from across the country will run, swim, shoot and march Friday and Saturday to aim for a prestigious foreign badge.

Participants from as far as New Hampshire and Washington will travel to Bloomington for the two-day German Armed Forces Proficiency Test, which includes a basic fitness test, a medical test, a swimming test, a pistol shoot and a ruck march.

“It’s very rare to earn a foreign award,” Capt. Joseph Catlaw said. “So people are coming from far, far away.”

The competition will begin Friday at Karst Farm Park near Monroe County Fairgrounds and will eventually move to Bloomington High School South and the Bloomington Public Safety Training Center. Tasks include:

  • A written first aid test

  • A basic fitness test, which includes a 11x10-meter shuttle sprint, a chin-up test and a 1,000-meter run

  • A timed Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear test in which they must don a gas mask and chemical safety gear

  • A 100-meter clothed swim in under four minutes, followed by removing their uniforms while treading water

  • A pistol-shooting competition to test aim

Based on performance in the Friday events, each cadet will know whether he or she will most likely receive a gold, silver or bronze version of the badge.

On Saturday, they will march in uniform while carrying 33-pound rucksacks to fully achieve their respective badges. If they’ve qualified for a bronze badge, they’ll march six kilometers. For silver, they’ll march nine and for gold they’ll attempt twelve.

“It’s a prestigious award,” said Capt. Phillip Boothe, assistant professor of military science at IU. “So not everyone is going to pass and receive it. It’s going to test their physical fitness and their mental abilities.”

A participant competes in a previous year's proficiency test in Bloomington. ROTC cadets and military members will travel from all over the country to attempt to earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge for the annual two-day competition, which will take place Friday and Saturday. Courtesy Photo

The proficiency test is based off standards set by the German Armed Forces, Catlaw said. IU organizes the event, but German representatives Sgt. Major Michael Misselbeck and Master Sgt. Maik Nattkemper oversee the events to ensure participants are meeting the standards.

“I’m used to American training and how they test us that way,” IU junior and ROTC cadet James Schell said. “But getting a foreign perspective, especially from a close ally such as Germany, is interesting to see.”

Schell earned a silver badge in 2018. He said the ruck march on the second day was the hardest part of the competition.

“After doing everything Friday, having to wake up early on a Saturday and do a six-mile ruck march when it’s rainy and muddy is kind of miserable,” he said. “But at the end you feel fulfilled.”

Schell said the test is tiring but doing it with other cadets from across the country made it fun.

“You get to branch out and network with people you probably wouldn’t meet otherwise in your same field,” he said.

Catlaw said he’s glad IU is able to give cadets the chance to earn a foreign badge, since it is rare.

“Before I came here I had 14 years in service and never had a foreign award,” he said. “Never even had an opportunity to earn one.”

Anyone can compete in the events, Catlaw said. But only those going into the Army will receive an actual badge, which he said they should wear with pride.

“It’s just not very common,” he said. “So for an officer, especially a brand new lieutenant to come into the Army and have earned a foreign award, it says something about that officer.”

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