NAPLES, Italy – When German Army Master Sgt. Pascal Grewe was informed of an upcoming competition for noncommissioned officers, he immediately raised his hand to volunteer.
Grewe was chosen from a group of applicants to represent Allied Joint Force Command Naples at the 9th International NATO and Partners for Peace NCO Winter Camp at Pokljuka, Slovenia, March 11-18.
What Grewe didn’t anticipate was a requirement to be on skis for a good portion of the course. The 33-year-old Paderborn, Germany, native had never skied before.
"I had already raised my arm before I heard it involved skiing,” said Grewe, adding that event organizers assured him that skiing experience wasn’t a necessity to attend the camp. In fact, almost half of the camp members had limited ski experience before arriving in Slovenia.
The 28 NCOS from 12 different nations didn’t just ski during the week-long camp. Although the participants spent time skiing - up and down as no ski lift use was allowed - and also participated in a competition biathlon of skiing and shooting, the course involved a variety of other activities such as leadership and education exercises, mountain survival, rappelling, guest speakers and tours of military museums.
"About 80 percent of the course was outside,” Grewe said. "It was never boring.”
A group of Slovenian NCOs and their counterparts from an Austrian mountaineering brigade were quickly able to ascertain the slope experience of the troops by dividing up the gear, walking up the hill and telling the camp members to go down.
Grewe was able to learn to navigate the hills within a couple of days with the assistance of the NCO instructors and said, with a widening grin, he already has the urge to plan a ski trip.
"When I put everything on, I really liked it,” Grewe said.
Grewe, who works with the Base Support Group’s real life support cell, said he never would have imagined that he, as a 16-year German Army logistics veteran, would be doing biathlons and mountain survival training upon his arrival to JFC Naples in October of 2014.
"If someone would have told me I’d be doing that, I would say he’s a crazy guy,” Grewe said. "I’m living in Italy with the sun, what should I do in the snow?”
The course, Grewe’s second NATO school following his completion of the NCO advanced leadership course in Switzerland, offered much more than snow and mountain skills.
Grewe said he learned a lot about how the NCO structures of different countries operate, and he said he enjoyed learning about all the different jobs the camp participants do regularly in their militaries.
"It’s a great opportunity to see what the militaries of other countries do and to make connections,” Grewe said. "I hope others use the opportunity to go to any NATO schools being offered.”
Grewe said overcoming language barriers through the course’s various exercises was a great skill that NCOs, especially ones working in an international environment, can put in their toolboxes. He also added that the education and benefits of socializing with the other NCOs following each day’s events was as important as the camp’s academic and physical challenges.
"The competition isn’t the main point,” Grewe said.
When asked about his ski skills after a few days on the Slovenian slopes, Grewe said he had an immense sense of self-satisfaction by conquering the unknown, but added there’s still some practice to be done.
"I’m not comfortable enough to call myself a skier yet,” Grewe said.
Story by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Mark Patton