Home team Lithuanian troops triumph in world ground force competition
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 30, 2019
Three Lithuanian units swept the top spots in this year’s International Best Squad Competition, outperforming 13 other teams that included a U.S. Army contingent, officials said Friday.
Sixteen teams — nine from host nation Lithuania and seven other international units — took part in the competition in Rukla in the center of the country. The winners were announced Friday.
U.S. Army Europe Command Sgt. Maj. Rob Abernethy, who was on hand to observe a portion of the competition, said such events help build ties between allies.
“Competition creates relationships that are going to be long lasting,” Abernethy said by phone. “They are all fighting against each other to win this competition, but at the end of the day we are all on the same team.”
The U.S. squad from the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry — a unit that serves as an opposition force for other units rotating through Hohenfels, Germany, on training missions — was led by Staff Sgt. Mark Blackwell. The competition kept soldiers “on their feet,” he said.
“A couple things we ran into that we’ve never done before,” Blackwell said, during a brief chat on Twitter with Abernethy in between events in Lithuania.
For example, as troops navigated the terrain they had to cross a river in a small boat, using just their hands to paddle, a first for the team, he said.
Complete results of where all the teams finished weren’t immediately available Friday, but the top three finishers were squads from Lithuania’s 8th Territorial Defense Unit, 3rd Territorial Defense Unit and Lithuanian Land Forces’ engineer battalion.
The competition took place over 36 hours with soldiers covering up to 25 miles as they tested their navigation skills through the night. European teams often excel in such international soldiering challenges. A Latvian team was the winner of the previous best squad event, Abernethy said.
In July, a squad from the French Foreign Legion won the best sniper completion hosted by the U.S. Army at its base in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
The other top finishers in that event were the Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia and Sweden.
During last year’s best tank team competition in Grafenwoehr, a unit from the German army — often criticized by Berlin’s own military ombudsman for a lack of overall combat readiness — took the top spot.
U.S. teams trailing their European counterparts in competition could be perplexing to outside observers, given America’s military dominance on the world stage.
Abernethy said part of their success could be related to cohesion developed from units sticking together for several years. U.S. troops tend to be on the move every few years.
“It might have to do with tenure and that is something we at the U.S. Army should look at,” he said.
Some European units also perform special training specifically for the competitions. “That’s not typically what we in the U.S. Army do,” he said.