WIESBADEN, Germany – They were just hoping to meet competition standards and at the very least, not finish last as the first U.S. team to compete in the a military skills contest in Oranje Kaserne, Netherlands.
So when it was announced that they were the second best team of 20 in the Dutch International Skills Competition Sept. 26, three 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment Soldiers couldn’t contain their surprise.
“We hoped we wouldn’t finish last,” said 1st Lt. Hans Seller, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1-214th Avn. Regt. executive officer. “We were not expecting to do as well as we performed.”
“I was shocked,” said Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Bobbe, 1-214th Avn. Regt. medical section noncommissioned officer, when it was translated to him that he was the best overall individual performer. “We were a little apprehensive at first. We were perplexed and confused about the format. But I was confident of the team we were taking.”
The competition tested the Soldiers’ proficiency in land navigation, target identification and range estimation, hand grenade assault, combat vehicle identification, first aid, shooting — Dutch service weapons C7 rifle and Glock 17 pistol, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense, and Dutch military history.
Bobbe said, the invitation came because of the friendship that was kindled with the Dutch Soldiers during the Monte Kali shooting competition that was held in the spring at the Wackernheim range where the unit had administrative responsibilities.
“I had the opportunity to make friends with many of the Dutch range cadre,” he said, adding that a deeper bond was formed when he shared history about his Dutch ancestry — his great grandfather emigrated from Amsterdam to New York around the turn of the 20th Century to evade extermination by the Nazis.
As the Soldiers were focused on competing, the occasion turned out to be more than they expected.
“Because of our level of training, we were allowed to do much more,” said Seller, who said their Dutch hosts gave them exclusive access to special training opportunities and special events while there. “They really wanted to share as much of their knowledge and culture with us as they could.”
Because the timing of the visit overlapped with the historic anniversary of Operation Market Garden the Soldiers got to experience World War II history from a new point of view, too.
“We mixed it up with British and Polish Soldiers,” said Seller explaining that their hosts took them on a special trip to the Airborne Museum while they were there. “We were getting the history on the experience from the perspective of British and Polish Soldier.”
Seller and Bobbe said the experience was remarkable for strengthening military relations, and building lasting friendships.
“I made some lifelong friends in these two events,” said Bobbe, “and it has opened up more opportunities to participate on the international military competition scale.”
“We went in having a bond with the Dutch, and here we established a strong rapport with the Belguims,” said Seller.
Seller said that as a result of the U.S. team’s participation and the disparate point margin between second and third place contest organizers plan to restructure the competition to make it a more competitive and challenging event for next year.