Competition ends in cross-nation bonding, learning
September 28, 2003
BRANNENBURG, Germany — The 401st Military Intelligence Company had fun hosting the second International Military Skills Competition.
Maybe another unit will be host for a third.
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” said Capt. Helmut Riepl, a German-born U.S. soldier who organized things. “That’s what we’re asking for — for some other unit to take it up.
“It all depends on who’s willing to go through with it. There’s a tremendous workload in organizing something like this.”
The Bad Aibling base is closing in September 2004. The 401st MIC will then disband. Its multinational event, which took place Sept. 20-21, might become history.
They put together the first one in December.
“I thought it would be the one and only time,” Riepl said.
“When I saw how well-received it was on an international basis and how much support we got from our troops, I felt the more times we could do it, the better.”
After Bad Aibling closes and the 401st MIC disbands, its members will be sent wherever, Riepl said. That will leave no one to host a third event unless someone else wants to do it.
The contest was held at Nussdorfer Au, a park at the foot of the Austrian Alps about 35 miles southwest of Munich. The games included rope bridge crossing, timed weapons assembly, land navigation and hostage rescue.
“It’s a good weekend, definitely good for international bonding,” said Pfc. Benjamin Cressy of Ventura, Calif., and the 401st MIC. “The joking is universal, as long as you have a good sense of humor and are patient. People work good together no matter what language they speak.”
Riepl said the event helps soldiers from different countries work together. Every time there is a conflict — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo — that’s what happens, he said.
“Here we get to learn about their uniforms, rank structure, language, weapons,” Riepl said.
German Sgt. Maj. Georg Pössl of the 761st Engineering Battalion said his reservists are sometimes activated on short notice.
“It makes it easier when we have to meet in action if we meet [beforehand] in peacetime,” Pössl said.
The Germans and Romanians were enemies until 1989. A year ago, they were working together to keep the peace in Kosovo, said Maj. Ludwig Krettler.
Krettler, 51, said he could remember the bad times. So when a Romanian unit was attached to his unit in Kosovo, he sensed the irony.
“It impressed me how that could even happen nowadays,” Krettler said.
“But I could feel it work. Everybody wanted to be part of the whole.”
Unlike Bad Aibling’s intelligence units, many other bases have units that deploy regularly. That could make it difficult for someone else to organize the event.
“But yes, it can be taken up,” Riepl said, “if the commander supports and allows it.”
Invitations to the different nations were sent through their embassies. The 401st was then allowed to contact units within those nations. Some of the units are regulars at the competitions.
“We know units from Italy and Austria, for example, because we’ve been to their events,” Riepl said.
The top three teams last weekend were a combined Austria-Finland squad, followed by teams from the Netherlands and United States. Each won a framed flag from Bad Aibling’s 108th Military Intelligence Group, of which the 401st MIC is a member.
Some teams won trophies, while others got certificates on which the flags from all the competing nations were printed.
Though the soldiers were from different countries, they looked similar — camouflage is camouflage. The main difference was the patches on their shoulders. There’s a blue cross on a white field for Finland, white cross on a red field for Switzerland.
Some of the non-U.S. competitors wore earrings and facial hair.
Members of the Polish team wore name tags. During downtime, the soldiers stood in small circles comparing boots and other gear.
And yes, Switzerland — that peace-loving nation — has an army. Every Swiss man age 18 or older is in it. Riepl said they’re like the minutemen of the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War.
“They (Swiss) are bar none the best shots in every competition, because they get so much more practice,” Riepl said. “In every American town, you might find a football field or tennis court. In Switzerland and Austria, you’ll find a [shooting] range.”
The Swiss made good on their reputation. After the first day, which featured the shooting competition, the two Swiss teams were running 1-2.
Local Germans provided breakfast the next morning — cold cuts, cheese and bread, with strong coffee and weak tea served out of tubs with ladles.
“For opening people’s minds, it’s perfect,” said Capt. Jürgen Kapella, a German reservist with the 761st Engineering Battalion. “It’s just the experience. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose.”
Kapella was called on to fill out one of the Dutch teams, which had a member who couldn’t make it.
“I never worked with the Dutch before,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
Rolf Hornberger, a 42-year-old specialist with the Swiss army, described the event as very friendly.
Not everyone saw it as fun and games.
“It’s more competition than fun,” said 21-year-old Mirko Barblan, one of Hornberger’s teammates. “Of course I’m here to win.”
“This is the difference of age,” Hornberger said with a smile, nodding at the younger Barblan.
There are other military skills contests in Europe. Some involve just shooting, others patrols, some have multiple events. Riepl and some soldiers from the other countries said the Bad Aibling competition involved more countries and events than those.
Sgt. 1st Class Juana Anderson of Frederick, Md., helped run the simulated river-crossing with members of the German army.
Afterward, they posed for pictures.
“Maybe if we did these all around the world, nobody would fight anymore,” Anderson said, “because we’d all be buddies.”