Germany wins big at 2016 Strong Europe Tank Challenge
By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 13, 2016
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — What was once old, was new again as six NATO-allied nations converged on the training grounds here for the 2016 Strong Europe Tank Challenge.
Co-hosted by U.S. Army Europe and the German Bundeswehr, it was part competition, part skills training and — as is the case with nearly every USAREUR event recently — part deterrence measure. It also aimed to restore some old skills that have fallen by the wayside since the end of the Cold War.
“You’ve got to continue to train; you have to invest the time and resources in the training to have the best possible deterrent force,” said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe. “This international tank challenge is a part of a series of things that helps us improve our skill.”
Of those skills tested, some — like using camouflage netting to mask a 60-ton hunk of metal — haven’t been part of regular tanker training in some time, Hodges said.
Others, like dealing with improvised explosive device attacks were a test of how well the participating units from the U.S., Germany, Denmark, Italy, Poland and Slovenia work together.
“In order to deter, you have to have credible warfighting formations,” Hodges said. “That means it’s not just having the equipment there, you’ve got to have formations, crews that know how to do it. This is a time tested way to help do this.”
While officials focused on how the challenge fit into USAREUR’s mission to deter further aggression from Russia, the troops on the ground were focused on only one thing.
“We want to be the best,” said Spc. Angel Medina, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, Company C. “That’s the fire right there.”
Unfortunately for Medina and his fellow crewmembers, when the smoke cleared on Friday, it was the Germans in their Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks, and not the Americans, who won top bragging rights. The Danish platoon took second and the Poles are bringing home third place.
German tank commander Staff Sgt. Tim Walter said the key to victory in the Tuesday to Thursday event was the open dialogue he kept with both his men and, surprisingly enough, the other teams.
“Every soldier gets to talk, and everyone does what he thinks is best to fulfill the task,” he said. “That made us winners.”
Walter said he and his men are now relieved that it’s over and that they’re leaving victorious.
“It was challenging, but it was a lot of fun,” he said. “We’re all happy. ... We worked so hard for this.”