1971 Prix Leclerc Team
- The 1971 Prix LeClerc team was, what became an elite group of US Army soldiers stationed in Germany, selected to compete against other NATO countries in an exhausting timed, tactical course designed to simulate war like conditions. Each 8-man squad was fully armed with live M16 rifles and one M60 machine gun. The first phase consisted of a 1.4-kilometer endurance run. The second phase involved an obstacle course consisting of a low crawl under barbed wire, a simulated hand grenade pit and a wall to scale and finally a balance beam to negotiate. “Locked and Loaded,” the third phase consisted of advancing, as a squad, against pop up targets. Each squad’s score was tallied and posted as part of the team against the other nations.
In short … Prix LeClerc was an intense, scored competition, simulating combat conditions among NATO nations; featuring endurance, obstacles and marksmanship. While promoting camaraderie and goodwill among teammates and competing nations.
Unfortunately, the NATO Prix LeClerc completion was discontinued shortly after our 1971 team. Thus, it is difficult to define exactly what the Prix LeClerc team did, represented and accomplished. Unlike Paratrooper or Army Ranger training, the Prix LeClerc team doesn’t have a tradition or a legacy. However, we know what we accomplished and proud we had a chance to represent the US Army and the United States in a international competition on a world stage.
- When we were selected, I believe, we had no idea how much training would go into competing at a high level in competition with other NATO countries.
- In order to promote camaraderie and confidence, the team was immediately dispatched to Wiesbaden, to complete US Army Jump School. Three weeks of intense training – Ground week, Tower week, and Jump Week. Each revolving around proper technic and physical fitness with a jump instructor yelling at you (with good cause) morning, noon, and night. Nothing and I mean nothing, is more frightening, exhilarating and stimulating than when the door opens on a C130 transport plane on a cold winter night and the Jump Master gives the order to stand up and hook up!! The wind’s hollowing, the motors are roaring, and the adrenaline is flowing!! Once the green light illuminates 50 AirBorne soldiers are out the door. Total quiet and a sigh of relief when you look up and see a big, beautiful canopy over your head as you drift to earth.
Jump school is demanding and intimidating, thus only about 60 out of 100 successfully complete the school. Once you graduate, your self-confidence to bursting. AirBorne soldiers were allowed to blouse their pants into their boots, a telling sign that you have proudly completed something, most people won’t even try!!
Over the years I’ve had people ask me, why jump out of a perfectly good airplane. My response, “you haven’t lived until you’ve jumped out of a C130 aircraft, 1250 feet above ground on a cold November night!” Indescribable!!
- The 1971 Prix Leclerc Team was attached to the 8th infantry and the 82nd AirBorne and component of the 1st of the 509th AirBorne Division. The battle cry of the 509th was “Geronimo,” named after the famed Apache Native American Chief. The term “Geronimo” was appropriate for our ’71 Prix LeClerc team, as one of our squad leaders was a Native American soldier from, North Dakota that we referred to as “Chief.” He was a great soldier and an individual we all admired. He came to us via the Green Berets 82nd AirBorne and served with valor in Vietnam.
- Not sure if any of us realized how demanding the 9 month training period would be:
- Up at 6 AM, a morning mile+ run in army formation. b) To the gym for intense physical training.
- Afternoon shooting range for instruction and target practice.
- Obstacle course practice.
- An evening run before dinner.
The training was intentionally designed to promote peak individual performance, but more importantly develop camaraderie and effective team skills to represent the US Army and our country at a highly competitive level.
- As we progressed through our training, individual personalities started to emerge. A few that I remember:
- “Chief” an honorable Native American, we all looked up to and respected.
- Sergeant Nesbeth – A career soldier “lifer” as we called them. He was older and more mature. He led by example. I’ll never forget, during jump school on the second or third jump his main parachute didn’t open. He calmly released that chute and deployed his reserve chute. I often wondered if I would have had the present of mind to do what he did … thankfully I’ll never know.
- Danny Moneypenny – To refer to Dan as a “live wire” is putting it mildly. His smile, quick wit, and ongoing creative mind kept us all upbeat and entertained. One day some of us were taking a break from training and Sgt Roberts, one of our instructors, walked by. Sgt Roberts was a great motivator but took himself quite seriously. He loved to go clubbing on Saturday night in his best James Brown, the God Father of Soul attire. Anyway, Danny began teasing him, asking him if it was okay to call him Bobby or how about Bob? We were all sitting there wondering what was going to happen next. Eventually Sgt Roberts looked up with a smirk and calmly said, “Moneypenny you bother me.” Then walked off. Only Danny could have pulled that off!! Dan, with all his fun and games was an outstanding team member. He was probably the best distance runner on the team and a terrific vocal motivator. I’m sure he has left a positive influence, wherever life’s journey has taken him.
- Teammates Jim Gurtison and Steve Balch became good friends. Steve purchased a Saab Automobile, and we travelled up and down the Rhine River visiting historical sights and a few gasthaus’ (pubs:) on Sunday’s, our day off.
- One very memorable diversion from training was the Prix LeClerc team’s trip through Soviet occupied East Germany to West Berlin. We took the night duty train, an incredibly enlightening experience. When we crossed the border into East Germany the train was halted and East German troops came aboard. We were given strict instructions not to make eye contact and not show any expression. To add to the tension, possibly one of our guys, gave a subtle middle figure salute to the East German Soldier, almost causing an international incident. That was intense!! After arriving and spending a day in modern, thriving West Berlin, the team was taken, by bus, to East Berlin through famed Check Point Charlie to pay our respects to a WW2 US Army Memorial. We had the distinction of being the only US Army unit in full uniform to cross over into East Berlin. Once in East Berlin the stark contrast between the modern, bustling city of West Berlin to the stark, empty streets and almost “Ghost Town” appearance of East Berlin was both astonishing and disturbing. In reflecting, I believe the trip was designed to demonstrate the stark and poignant difference between a thriving democracy and communism. The trip definitely brought us closer together and reinforced our commitment to excellence as a team and as members of an organization dedicated to protecting freedom.
Written by a beloved Prix LeClerc Teammate, Duane Baird. He was the tallest guy on the team, and was the last man in the pit because he had to throw us all out, and then we pulled him out. Duane currently lives in the San Diego area. He had a successful career in real estate. And I must say, Duane is as nice a gentleman as he was all those years ago… AirBorne… All The Way!