The path to becoming an armoured infantry officer

The path to becoming an armoured infantry officer

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The path for prospective Army officers is long and demanding. After basic training, young officer candidates enter a period of intense military growth and study. Private First Class and Officer Candidate Marc Fenchel talks about the lessons he has learned.

A soldier gives the camera a serious look.

Private First Class and Officer Candidate Marc Fenchel is taking part in advanced individual training for armoured infantry.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

Private Fenchel is one of almost 30 participants in advanced individual training with 371 Armoured Infantry Battalion in Marienberg. 4 Company is teaching him and his comrades the basics of armoured infantry. Advanced individual training takes almost three months and follows basic training. Together with the other participants, Fenchel is currently at the training area in Kietz in Saxony-Anhalt. Training here marks the culmination and conclusion of advanced individual training.

From Air Force to Army

A soldier crosses an open area with his gun and belt box.

During a live fire exercise at the Klietz training area, Private Marc Fenchel is employed as an MG5 machine gunner.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

Although the 21-year-old officer candidate is still at the beginning of his military career he has seen more of the Bundeswehr than many of his fellow soldiers. As early as 2017, Fenchel was introduced to the armed forces when he underwent basic training as a military service volunteer with the Air Force Training Battalion in Germersheim. “After graduating from secondary school, I wasn’t quite sure what I really wanted to do. I took my cue from friends who were interested in the Bundeswehr and who applied. So I did the same and enlisted for 16 months.” After he completed basic training, he was employed as an assistant instructor for basic training in Germersheim. Before that, he had been assigned for a few weeks to a staff position in Bruchsal. “I soon found out that staff work was not my cup of tea. I was drawn back to the field. My time as an assistant instructor was a great experience, and I acquired a lot of practical knowledge.” When those 16 months were over, however, Fenchel felt the need to return to civilian life.

Reaching limits and exercising leadership

A soldier stands behind part of a wall in an open area and fires an antitank weapon.

During advanced individual training, young armoured infantrymen learn how to use the weapons of their branch such as the Panzerfaust 3.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

In his hometown of Karlsruhe, Marc Fenchel studied industrial engineering – only for four semesters though. “I never thought it would happen. But I soon noticed that I missed the Bundeswehr and everything that went with it. I missed the rough and coarse tone, the demands it made on me, and the opportunity to test my limits.” Fenchel realised that he needed a job that gave him responsibility and that challenged him both physically and mentally. As a child, Fenchel was a passionate football player and was captain of his team. He has always enjoyed assuming responsibility and taking the lead. When he became an assistant instructor in Germersheim, he again got the chance to use these capabilities.

“I quickly knew what to do. While I was at university, I again applied to the Bundeswehr, but this time I applied directly for an officer career post.” The 21-year-old knew exactly what he wanted: “I wanted to start studying in the Bundeswehr. My goal was to become an infantry officer.” With this in mind, Fenchel rejoined the Bundeswehr in July this year. He had to complete basic training again, this time in an Army unit. He then ended up in Marienberg in Saxony.

Team spirit in the armoured infantry

Two soldiers stand side by side, each holding a rifle at the ready.

The participants in advanced individual training are officer candidates, senior NCO candidates, and junior enlisted soldiers of the armoured infantry.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

Since then, Fenchel, together with other officer candidates, senior NCO candidates, and junior enlisted soldiers has been undergoing advanced individual training for the armoured infantry. “It is a challenge to complete this important training segment, because we all have different levels of knowledge. This is partly due to the previous military service of some comrades and partly to the changes in basic training as a result of coronavirus protection measures.” The recruits learn some theoretical units by way of distance learning.  “It is unlikely that soldiers will have the same level of knowledge after basic training. It is up to the instructors of advanced individual training to close those gaps”, Fenchel says. And still, he sees a number of positive aspects. Team spirit is practiced everywhere and anywhere. Course participants help and support one another wherever they can. Fenchel laughs: “The mood of instructors depends on the performance of the group, therefore we always want to give our best.” Advanced individual training mainly consists of weapon and marksmanship training and combat training. Participants learn the tools of the armoured infantry trade. No matter if mounted on the Marder infantry fighting vehicle or dismounted, fighting eye to eye with the enemy is the core task of armoured infantry.

Back to school

A Marder infantry fighting vehicle moves through wooded terrain.

371 Armoured Infantry Battalion in Marienberg is one of the last battalions with the Marder infantry fighting vehicle as its main weapon system.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

For this reason, the live fire exercise in Klietz already constitutes the highlight of advanced individual training. “In conclusion I can say that I have learned a lot of new things, in spite of my previous military service. Within a short period of time I have become a much better marksman and have acquired a new perspective on many things.” After six months of this demanding Army training, Fenchel will start his probationary officer cadet course in January. In 15 weeks he will acquire the tools he needs to be a military leader and instructor. This will be followed by several months of training and internship before it is time to go back to school. Building on his previous time at the university, Fenchel will study economics and organisational sciences at the Bundeswehr University in Munich. “I am looking forward to the exciting and eventful time that awaits me.” The 21-year-old still has a long and demanding way to go but with every step he gets a bit closer to his goal of serving as an officer in the armoured infantry forces.

by Elisabeth Rabe