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May 21, 2014
By
Shayna E. Brouker, IMCOM
Source: www.army.mil

WIESBADEN, Germany (May 21, 2014) -- For the first time in 20 years, American marksmen won bragging rights at Monte Kali.

The Wiesbaden team, consisting of 1st Lt. Jarod Steen, 1st Lt. Hans Seller, 1st Lt. John Scudder and 1st Lt. Joel Castillo took first place in the international team (non-German) category at the 31st annual Monte Kali International Shooting Competition, Europe's premiere inter-military shooting event. More than 1,800 Soldiers from 13 countries took part in the event May 8-10, at the Wackernheim Range Complex.

Company D, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, served as the lead U.S. proponent for the event, where Soldiers can qualify on different firearms, compete in team shooting events and simply get to know their brothers-in-arms from around Europe.

"It's a chance to bring everyone together and build camaraderie and see different styles and techniques," said Capt. Michael Connelly, company commander of Company D, 1-214th Aviation Regiment and officer-in-charge of the range, for the second year in a row.

Camouflage uniforms, as far as the eye could see, differing only slightly in pattern and color; the sound of gunfire peppering conversations in French, German, English, Italian and Dutch; the smell of currywurst wafting through the air -- these peculiarities set the scene for Monte Kali.

Ranges were set up for Soldiers to try their trigger finger at the Swiss SIG 5.56 semi-automatic rifle, the German Walther P99 semi-automatic pistol, the Dutch Glock-17 semi-automatic pistol, the American M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, the American M16 rifle, the Beretta M9 pistol and even grenades. They could also compete in a four-person marksmanship event, which Italian teams won the past two years.

Swiss Capt. T. Lüthi has been operating the 300-meter SIG 5.56 range for four years, and despite Switzerland's reputation for neutrality, admitted his favorite weapon to shoot is the Swiss rifle.

"Like a Swiss Army watch, it is precise," he said. Since Switzerland doesn't have a professional standing army and requires service just one month a year, they value quality over quantity as far as weaponry, he joked.

But similarities as Soldiers overshadow differences.

"You can meet Soldiers from so many other countries," he said, "thirteen nations, one stage -- it works."

Monte Kali was founded by former Bundeswehr Soldier Bernd Kern, who was dissatisfied with the unstructured and poorly run shooting competitions at the time. Weapons were un-zeroed, and shooters relied on judges rather than objective targets. So he created his own competition, named after the salt mine mountain landmark near his hometown of Neuhof in northern Germany.

Now it's a family affair, with his son, Bundeswehr reservist Andreas Kern, running the show since 2009. His sister, Master Sgt. Esther Sperger, helps as well. Planning the event for more than 1,000 Soldiers is a huge task. Every day for two weeks leading up to Monte Kali Kern gets 60 phone calls a day -- "but it's fun," he said.

"I enjoy meeting Americans," he said. "That's the reason we do it every year."

Connelly, smiling ear to ear, shared the sentiment.

"A lot of people get stationed here, but they don't get the chance to interact with Soldiers from other countries," he said. "It's fun to see people from last year. We form long-lasting friendships, meet each other's families and have barbecues."

Proceeds from the registration fee goes to the Fisher House Foundation, a charity organization that provides free temporary homes for military families while their service members are being treated at military and Veterans Affairs hospitals. Last year they raised €3,000.

For many, such as German Pfc. Dos Santos Grünenberg, who was waiting in line to shoot the SIG 5.56 "just for fun," it's just that.

"It's a good time here with friends," he said.