July 2010

The beginning of June signified the halftime of our stay in the barracks in Dillingen. The first month was over and we could start counting down the days. The main platoon had been released from duty, so we were only 12 athletes and those 3 female soldiers who had to complete the remaining training. In such a small platoon (that's how the German Armed Forces classify such groups), you have an advantage that really should not be underestimated: time. With a size of 30 or 40 soldiers, each case of forming up or lining up takes considerably longer than if you're only 15. In the military, time is a factor that can make life either bearable or unbearable. You either have way too little of it and thus have to rush, or something went wrong in the planning and you're assigned hours for tasks that hardly require that much time. Especially we as competitive athletes are used to a planned-out and well-structured time schedule, therefore the change may at times not be quite as easy, but everyone should be able to adjust for a short period of 8 weeks. Even more so if you know what you're doing it for and that you'll get the opportunity afterwards to keep supporting the German Armed Forces as a sports soldier, and certainly benefit from this, too.

The only problematic and unpleasant aspect of the time planning is that certain parts of the training (e.g. cleaning the equipment) use time units to measure quality levels. This means that the equipment is significantly cleaner if it has been cleaned for at least 8 hours. That you pass 8 hours of cleaning by secretly killing 4 hours by playing cards and 3 hours with other fun stuff is not being taken into account. Towards the end of our recruit training, we indeed had two days in a row on which we just cleaned pieces of equipment from the start of duty time at 5 a.m. until the beginning of non-duty time at 4 p.m.

As athletes, we take an exceptional position in the basic training and certain parts of training are omitted or simplified, so none of us should have a reason to complain about the amount of strain. In addition, everyone is concerned about releasing us from this training without any injuries. If you get sick anyhow, or if you have to contact the medical department, things can easily get complicated. It took Daniel up to 5 points of contact, including two doctors, to finally be handed out his "Order Form for the Acquisition of Replacement Body Parts, as well as Orthopedic Appliances" so that he could order his insoles from the medical supplier.

There's also the experience that not everything in the military is safe and fun, which Daniel had to learn at the shooting range. All in all, we went shooting with live ammunition twice during the basic training. Using the P8 (the same pistol that had long been in use by the German police), we once had to fire with an uncocked hammer, which makes it more difficult to hit your target. Since Daniel's shots were repeatedly way off target, he rotated the gun by 45° in order to check with the range supervisor what exactly he did wrong and whether there might not be a problem with the gun. However, if you fire a bullet, the hammer cocks automatically and the next shot can very easily go off. This is exactly what happened. The projectile shot 3 m past the supervisor, who was standing behind Daniel, and over the other shooting lane. We'll let any possible intentions and questions considering the fact that Carolina was doing her shooting exercise on the neighboring lane pass without comment. At no point was the situation really dangerous, but the fact that a shot can go off so easily is still alarming. Daniel and the range supervisor were both so agitated afterwards that the exercise was aborted for him and the supervisor asked his superior to be allowed to smoke a cigarette to calm his nerves.

Not dangerous, but exciting was living in the woods for three days on the bivouac. The march alone was not to be underestimated: a good 8 km with baggage of about 20 kg (spare clothes (2 trousers, 2 t-shirts, 2 field blouses, jacket, 3 pairs of socks, field cap), rain clothes (trousers and jacket), protection against cold (trousers and jacket), NBC equipment including gas mask with poncho, canteen and canteen cup with eating utensils, folding shovel, shelter half, sleeping pad, ground sheet, sleeping bag, helmet, G36 rifle, cleaning kit for the equipment, toiletries, multi-tool knife, dressing material, gloves, towel, sewing kit, magazines, and the secret extra food in case the food should be bad). Besides setting up a tent camp, we also learned the right behavior for patrolling or how to set up foxholes. In order to make the bivouac physically more demanding, two groups always have to patrol at night and another group has to watch the fire. You thus get a maximum of 2 hours of sleep at night. Since there usually arises at least one situation that requires an alarm in each bivouac, these tasks have to be carried out responsibly and you can't go to sleep on the sly. It was so dark in the woods at night that you couldn't even see as far as 5 m, and the air was full of different noises from all directions. Even many a hockey player admitted afterwards that he was scared while patrolling.

We only went home to NRW together on the first long weekend in order to visit our family again. Apart from that, Carolina stayed in the barracks again, primarily to save costs. Unfortunately, the weather didn't always allow for enjoying the sunlight, but the last few weekends were all the hotter in return. It may certainly be enjoyable to have the sun shine with all its power in your spare time, but we're bound to the dress code when we're on duty. The dress code is the same for the summer and winter, so this results in one or two drops of sweat when the temperature is high. Moreover, you're only allowed to roll up your sleeves if the assignment allows for it, the entire platoon still looks uniform, and the superior does it, too. We definitely wished to be able to escape into a cold ice rink every once in a while. You also begin to fully understand the sometimes less-than-handsome construction workers who showcase their (almost) Adonis-like bodies in the summer.

Towards the end of the month, Daniel went to Leipzig for this year's fitness test. Unfortunately, Carolina was sick and now has to take the test in September. Before the test, we thought very little of the German Skating Union's move to invite all the athletes to Leipzig in order to take the test there. The costs for travel and accommodation are probably higher this way than sending a representative of the German Skating Union to all the bases. In retrospect, however, we have to say that it did make sense: this way, we older athletes get to know the younger ones, we were able to motivate each other during the test, and at the same time everybody did their best to beat the competition. In any case it did motivate Daniel, and it also showed him that there are other boys who can do the splits or a good scale. According to the head of the course, however, the level of the ice dancers was the highest of all disciplines on average.

All in all, the time with the German Armed Forces was full of experiences, and fun, and a great distraction. Our platoon was just amazing, and it was in the last few days in particular that we realized what a great group we were. The spare hours flew by with games such as caterpillar races or corridor hockey. Anyway, there's one thing we have to put straight right here to object to all the prejudices:

Ice hockey players are not tougher than ice dancers (which we were hopefully able to prove).

Signing off,

Corporal Hermann, Charlie
Private First Class, Delta

P.S. Since the German Armed Forces don't use first names, we were given these name affixes according to the NATO alphabet.




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