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Germany blasts past NATO allies in tank challenge

The Austrian tank team fires at targets from their Leopard 2A4 tanks, during the Strong Europe Tank Challenge at Grafenwoehr, Germany. (YouTube Screenshot/ Stars and Stripes)

After a week of blowing up targets and performing extreme challenges in the Bavarian heat, Germany took the trophy for the top tank platoon at this year’s Strong Europe Tank Challenge.

This is the third year of the challenge, and it’s the second time the German team defeated the hardened tank platoons of the United States, France, Ukraine, Poland, Sweden, Austria and the United Kingdom.

The eight NATO allies and partner nations gathered to test their tank crews’ skills against each other, build camaraderie, and share tactics and techniques. Events ranged from precision shooting and range determination to a mock armor battle and a combat pistol shoot.

“A lot of the challenges are very hard, but one of the toughest is probably the combat pistol shoot,” said Sgt. Maj. Douglas Merritt, the 7th Army Training Command operations sergeant major, and a tank crewman himself. “The soldiers have to run, dismount, shoot, and get on top of their vehicle and shoot from that.”

The U.S. tank team — soldiers with the Army’s 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team — did not place in the top 3 overall but won the tanker shootout. In that event, tanks take long-range, precision shots at targets from several hundred yards away, as soldiers from a dozen or more countries cheer them on.

The German team won two years ago, but their top-place victory this week was not a foregone conclusion. Sweden almost pulled ahead of Germany, but the German team racked up points for best overall performance and scored highest in the last day’s “Tanker Olympics,” where tank crews sprint around a track with heavy tank parts and gear.

It was Sweden’s first year competing in the challenge, and the team was proud to come in second.

“It’s the first year for them, so they don’t have any experience, but they (did) very well,” said Capt. Christian Wester, the Swedish team’s tank commander.

“It’s a great confidence boost. This way we know we train our crews in a good way. Of course, we have a feeling that we are training them good, but we don’t know, since we haven’t tested them against other countries this way before. It feels good to know that we’re doing the right thing,” said Wester.

The tanker teams stayed at the same on-base barracks, giving them time to get to know each other off the shooting range.

“It’s been kind of amazing these past few days,” said Swedish tank mechanic Lance Cpl. Daniel Roos. “Everyone has gotten along so well and had such a good time together, during and after the competition.”

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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