FORT BARFOOT, Va. –
A few times each year, the Virginia National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, conducts an 11B Infantry Transition Course. The Soldiers who attend this course, all junior Soldiers and noncommissioned officers, each arrive with their own reason for being there. Some want to test themselves, to see if they can survive and thrive in the infantry. Others are fulfilling childhood dreams, or chasing promotion opportunities. Whatever their reason, their goal is singular: to earn the 11B military occupational specialty and leave Fort Barfoot with a blue infantry shoulder cord.
“It is not an easy MOS, but it is a very rewarding one at the same time,” said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Cook, a long-time cadre member at the 183rd RTI.
During the 11B Infantry Transition course, Cook and the rest of the cadre put Soldiers, who arrive as engineers, medics, intelligence analysts and mechanics, through three rigorous weeks of infantry training. Over those weeks, Soldiers gain proficiency on weapons they’ve maybe never fired before, improve their land navigation skills, learn how to communicate and move effectively across a battlefield and gain a basic proficiency in infantry tasks. The days are long and often made more challenging by the sweltering heat and humidity native to Virginia.
For many of the students, the challenge of becoming an infantryman is precisely what motivated them as they worked their way through the course.
“The reason I wanted to become an 11B, is because I like to put myself to the test,” explained Staff Sgt. Patrick Powers, a 91B Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic in the Virginia National Guard. He’s also slotted to attend U.S. Army Ranger School and knew the 11B course would help him establish a strong knowledge base before taking on that next challenge.
Similarly, Sgt. Allison Stanton, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division as a 35F Intelligence Analyst, was also there to challenge herself.
“I wanted to become at 11B because it’s really the only MOS that I felt was out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I felt like the whole job would be very challenging for me, so that’s why I chose it.”
Spc. Alexander Wyatt started his military career as an infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was discharged due to an injury, but was able to rehabilitate himself and worked on an ambulance during his time out of the military. When he joined the Army, he came back in as a 68W Combat Medic, but still felt pulled toward the infantry.
“I wanted to become an infantryman because it’s always been a dream of mine, I just always had the itch to still be an infantryman and I finally scratched that itch,” Wyatt said. He’s now assigned to the 75th Field Artillery Brigade at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Spc. Steven Schmidt drove across the country to attend the infantry transition course. He started his military career as a medic.
“During my time in the military, I’ve met all sorts of people, with different MOSs, but the 11Bs stood out to me in their brotherhood,” Schmidt said. “I’ve always believed that going through difficult times is what brings people together and I think 11Bs go through that more than any other MOS. I just wanted to be a part of that.”
As the most recent course came to a close, after the Soldiers hauled themselves, their gear and their weapons through the forests, roads and fields of Fort Barfoot, after they tested their endurance with a timed 5-mile run and sent thousands of rounds down range from a variety of different weapons systems, they gathered near a small pond. The cadre, decorated with an assortment of badges, tabs and scrolls, formed a corridor through the water. The students, tired and dirty from days spent in the field, were called forward, into the water. There, they were guided through the protected passage formed by the cadre. Then, dripping pond water and steaming in the midday sun, they worked their way to a top of a hill.
This immersion and ascent, they were told, served to mark the transition from what they were before to what they had become.
On top of a Fort Barfoot hill on July 26, 2023, 22 Soldiers received their blue infantry cords and officially became the newest infantry Soldiers in the U.S. Army.