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German Pfc. Vitali Krell dangles from a rope as he crosses an ice-cold river during the final day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, Training Area, Oct. 19-22, 2015. The Germans beat out 16 other squads to earn the title of Best Squad in Europe.

German Pfc. Vitali Krell dangles from a rope as he crosses an ice-cold river during the final day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, Training Area, Oct. 19-22, 2015. The Germans beat out 16 other squads to earn the title of Best Squad in Europe. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

German Pfc. Vitali Krell dangles from a rope as he crosses an ice-cold river during the final day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, Training Area, Oct. 19-22, 2015. The Germans beat out 16 other squads to earn the title of Best Squad in Europe.

German Pfc. Vitali Krell dangles from a rope as he crosses an ice-cold river during the final day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, Training Area, Oct. 19-22, 2015. The Germans beat out 16 other squads to earn the title of Best Squad in Europe. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

Romanian soldiers help each other over an obstacle during the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr Training Area, Oct. 19-22, 2015.

Romanian soldiers help each other over an obstacle during the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr Training Area, Oct. 19-22, 2015. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

Sgt. Nicolas Buc, with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, clears an obstacle ahead of a team of competitors during the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr Training Area Oct. 19-22, 2015.

Sgt. Nicolas Buc, with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, clears an obstacle ahead of a team of competitors during the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr Training Area Oct. 19-22, 2015. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

Latvian soldiers scout out a tree line as part of a town-clearing exercise during the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at  Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany Oct. 19-22, 2015. The Latvian squad came in second place.

Latvian soldiers scout out a tree line as part of a town-clearing exercise during the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany Oct. 19-22, 2015. The Latvian squad came in second place. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

British troops discuss the best way to move a simulated casualty during the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr training area Oct. 19-22, 2015.

British troops discuss the best way to move a simulated casualty during the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr training area Oct. 19-22, 2015. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

A Dutch squad maneuvers its Zodiac boat across a river at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, outdoor center Oct. 21, 2015. Soldiers from 13 nations gathered to compete in the 2015 European Best Squad Competition hosted by U.S. Army Europe and ran in part by the German military.

A Dutch squad maneuvers its Zodiac boat across a river at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, outdoor center Oct. 21, 2015. Soldiers from 13 nations gathered to compete in the 2015 European Best Squad Competition hosted by U.S. Army Europe and ran in part by the German military. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

Romanian soldiers march toward the final portion of their rugged terrain hike on the final day of competition in the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, training area Oct. 19-22, 2015.

Romanian soldiers march toward the final portion of their rugged terrain hike on the final day of competition in the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, training area Oct. 19-22, 2015. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

Halvor Braaten, a Norwegian soldier, dangles 55 feet in the air during the high-rope obstacle course portion of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr training area, held Oct. 19-22, 2015.

Halvor Braaten, a Norwegian soldier, dangles 55 feet in the air during the high-rope obstacle course portion of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr training area, held Oct. 19-22, 2015. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

Norway's Harald Robak competes in the pistol live-fire event on the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, training area Oct. 19-22, 2015.

Norway's Harald Robak competes in the pistol live-fire event on the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, training area Oct. 19-22, 2015. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

Italy's Marco Norio takes a leap of faith from a platform dozens of feet above the ground during the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, training area Oct. 19-22, 2015.

Italy's Marco Norio takes a leap of faith from a platform dozens of feet above the ground during the second day of the 2015 European Best Squad Competition at the Grafenwoehr, Germany, training area Oct. 19-22, 2015. (Michael S. Darnell/Stars and Stripes)

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — For the first time in more than a decade, U.S. Army Europe has a new king on the infantry squad throne, and it isn’t an American team.

A German squad won the Joint Multinational Training Command’s European Best Squad Competition in Grafenwoehr. It was the first such contest to be held under the auspices of USAREUR in more than 10 years.

The Bundeswehr troops had to out-shoot, out-march and generally out-soldier 16 other teams in more than 20 events spread across four grueling days and nights. Germany and the U.S. were among 13 nations represented at the competition. The others were: Albania, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovenia and Britain.

Each nation fielded the best troops in its infantry. Some countries held preliminary competitions to weed out the slower, weaker troops. The tryouts worked well for the Latvians, who placed second.

The Americans sent five units to particpate. A squad from the Vicenza, Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade came in third. But in the end, it was the Germans who came out on top.

“I’m really proud,” said German Pfc. Andreas Kling. “To come here and win the first European Best Squad Competition, in my own land … it’s so good a feeling.”

During the four-day event, squads tackled obstacle courses, hiked dozens of miles in full combat gear, scaled rock walls and even pulled Hummers. They did all that and more on little sleep, mostly grabbed in brief naps outdoors while temperatures dipped to freezing.

The competition was so extreme, even the winners said they had second thoughts about sticking with it.

“It was tougher than I expected,” Kling said.

How did he overcome his doubts and push through?

“We wanted to win this competition. For my nation, for my company and for my squad members.”

Once an annual event, the competition was put on hold given heightened operational commitments for the U.S. and its European allies.

But at last year’s Combat Training Center Conference, USAREUR’s commander, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, made returning international team-building exercises like these a priority, said JMTC’s Sgt. Maj. Tony Tuck. Team-building happens at massive training events like the current JMTC-hosted Combined Resolve V, but also at smaller events like the best-squad competition, Tuck said.

“Combined Resolve does the tactical piece. But this gets down to the soldier level. So you got privates out here that are actually competing against other privates,” Tuck said. “Who’s out in the foxhole? Those soldiers are going to be side by side with other NATO soldiers fighting the battle, if we are given a battle in the future.”

darnell.michael@stripes.com


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