FORT PICKETT, Va. –
After a week of hands-on training, 254 Soldiers began testing for the Expert Infantryman Badge Aug. 6, 2017, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. EIB testing was hosted by the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and was a key event in the brigade’s two-week annual training, held July 29 – Aug. 12, 2017.
“All in all, over 250 candidates began the grueling test, with only 33 earning their badge,” said Col. Scott Smith, commander of the 116th IBCT.
In addition to Soldiers assigned to the 116th IBCT, 32 active duty troops from 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division participated in EIB testing, along with Kentucky National Guard Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment. While any Soldier with an expert marksmanship qualification can participate in EIB testing, only Soldiers holding an 11-series military occupational speciality can wear the coveted badge.
“The EIB was created as an award to honor the U.S. Army Infantryman,” explained Master Sgt. James Bartels, operations noncommissioned officer for the 116th IBCT and who helped plan the event. “The EIB testing process measures the mastery of individual skills through different evaluations taking place over a five-day period.”
The first day of testing kicked off early with an Army Physical Fitness Test. In order to continue, EIB candidates had to score 80 percent or higher on each of the three events – push-ups, sit-ups and the two-mile run. Then, Soldiers quickly changed, grabbed their field gear and headed to the southern edge of Fort Pickett for the day land navigation test. There, Soldiers had to find three out of four points on the self-correcting course and make it back to the start in just three hours. If successful during the day, Soldiers then set out again, for night land navigation with the task of once again finding three out of four points in no more than three hours.
Following the first day of EIB testing, the field of candidates dropped by more than 70 percent. On the second day of testing, just 73 candidates remained to begin testing on 30 tasks.
Lt. Andrew Rose, assigned to the British Army’s 4th Battalion, Princess Wales Royal Regiment, participated in EIB testing along with 2nd Lt. Rafael Diaz, assigned to 3rd Battalion, 116th IBCT. The two are part of the Military Reserve Exchange Program. Before Rose’s arrival in the United States, Diaz told him he would be participating in the EIB. Rose, unfamiliar with the badge, asked for more information.
“He sent me a big pamphlet and I said, ‘well that looks hard.’ And it was,” Rose explained.
Task testing covers three days and three categories. First, Soldiers tackled medical, testing on tasks including perform first aid for burns and complete a nine-line medical evacuation request. Then, they moved on to patrol tasks where they focused on skills like use visual signaling techniques, challenge persons entering your area and identify terrain features on a map. Finally, on the last day of task testing, Soldiers faced the weapons tasks where they had to prove their proficiency and knowledge on weapons systems including the M4 Carbine, the M870 Shotgun, the M18A1 Claymore Mine and the M203 Grenade Launcher.
For Rose and many of the other candidates, weapons testing was the most daunting.
“We brought all the weapons to the barracks because, for Lt. Rose, all the weapons are new,” Diaz explained. “That was the biggest concern we had.”
The EIB is a go/no-go event. Soldiers either successfully complete the task in the correct sequence, or they don’t. Candidates are allowed two first time no-gos. No-go on a second attempt at a task, or get a third first-time no-go, and you’re out.
“It’s a lot of highs and lows,” explained Staff Sgt. Michael Wilcox, assigned to 1st Battalion, 116th IBCT. “You pass one task and it’s a short high and then you run right into the next task. There’s these short little moments of highs that are probably the best part of EIB.”
Each day of task testing thinned the crowd of EIB candidates, with around 10-15 candidates disqualified on each day of testing.
“These evaluations place eligible candidates under varying degrees of stress; testing their physical and mental abilities as they execute critical Infantry tasks to established standards,” Bartels explained.
On day five, the last day of EIB testing, just 35 candidates remained to start the 12-mile ruck march. They started early, at around 4:30 a.m., each with 35 pounds of dry weight strapped to their backs. Thirty-three candidates made it back before the three hour time limit and headed into the final event of EIB testing.
Objective Bull, named for the first infantryman to earn the EIB, Tech. Sgt. Walter Bull, is the final event of EIB testing. It is a 100-meter course where Soldiers encounter a casualty. They must treat and stabilize the patient and move them 50 meters to a casualty collection point using a skedco, all within 20 minutes.
Finally, it was on to the ceremony where 33 Soldiers received their Expert Infantryman Badge.
“You all know how hard this is and we’re all proud of you,” Smith said at the pinning ceremony. “This is a mental challenge and you figured out how to keep your mind settled so thank you for being the example for all of us here.”
Both Rose and Diaz agreed that having a friend to go through testing with was key to their success.
“It was tough and I feel great being part of this group and doing this with Lt. Rose was amazing,” Diaz said. “He didn’t know anything coming here and in two weeks he did something that many Soldiers, infantry Soldiers, don’t accomplish in their career.”
“Without Lt. Diaz, I would have got absolutely no where,” Rose said. “Passing the weapons was a huge weight off the shoulders and he got me through that.”
Even for the Soldiers who did not complete testing and earn their EIB, training for and participating in the training served to improve their individual readiness.
“Even if a Soldier does not negotiate the entire event, the train-up phase and the testing returns Soldiers to their units more disciplined and sharpened,” Bartels explained. “It is an individual testing event [and] the Soldiers’ confidence and attention to detail are also enhanced.”
For Smith, improving the individual readiness of his Soldiers during annual training was paramount. He explained that many Soldiers within the brigade attended MOS-qualification courses or leadership development courses, in lieu of attending annual training with the rest of the brigade. While the infantry battalions focused on EIB, the other battalions also conducted their own competitions and training events designed to test their Soldiers and improve their skills.
“All of our Soldiers across multiple MOS skill sets were conducting similar training within their respective MOS’s with the end result of improving their individual readiness,” Smith explained.
In the Danville-based 429th Brigade Support Battalion, skills were tested in a Best Medic Competition, and a Sustainment Rodeo that tested the proficiency of vehicle maintainers, cooks and drivers.
For Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment the focus was on an Excellence in Armor-style competition that, “focused on the essentials of motorized cavalry techniques at the individual and crew levels,” according to Smith. Four Soldiers from Charlie Troop also successfully earned their EIB.
The Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion conducted a Sapper Stakes competition, testing the engineer smarts of their Soldiers with door breaching, stress shoots and various task stations scattered across a land navigation course. Soldiers assigned to the battalion Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System Platoon refined their skills at Fort Polk’s Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana, while intelligence troops trained on the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield process in supporting of upcoming exercises.
“What impressed me most was the positive attitude of our Soldiers during these two weeks of grueling training,” Smith said. “These men and women trained day and night under difficult conditions without any accidents of incidents. This is a testament to their professionalism and dedication.”