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NEWS | April 9, 2024

229th BEB Soldier earns Expert Soldier Badge

By A.J. Coyne | VIrginia National Guard Public Affairs

Maj. Josh Favaro, executive officer of the Virginia National Guard’s Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineering Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team earned the Expert Soldier Badge March 15, 2024, at Fort Walker, Virginia.

In doing so, Favaro became the first Soldier to earn the ESB while assigned to the Virginia National Guard.

This was Favaro’s second attempt at earning the ESB. Last summer, he attempted to achieve it during annual training at Fort Barfoot. This year testing was hosted by the Fort Meyer-based 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard. In addition to ESB, the Old Guard offered Expert Infantryman Badge and Expert Field Medical Badge testing.  

“My main motivation was to finish what I learned last summer and hopefully inspire other Soldiers outside of the infantry to go for their ESB as well,” Favaro explained.

The Expert Soldier Badge is a special skills badge awarded to Soldiers who have completed testing and do not serve in the Infantry, Special Forces, or Medical Branches. Testing for the ESB consists of 30 tasks- Weapon Lane Tasks, Medical Lane Tasks, Patrol Lane Tasks, and five unit-level missions essential tasks chosen by the commander, as well as a 12-mile road march, a land navigation test and the Expert Physical Fitness Assessment.

“The three badges- EIB, ESB, and EFMB are perhaps some of the hardest awards for a Soldier to earn,” said Sgt. Maj. Justin Walkup, the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team operations sergeant major. “We gave out 14 EIBs at our brigade event last year and we came close to giving out some ESBs.”

This is the second year the 116th worked with the Old Guard for EIB and ESB testing. The relationship has blossomed recently, according to Walkup and the 116th IBCT now gets seats to their event every year.  They were only able to send four Soldiers this year but he hopes to send 25-30 next year.

In addition to Favaro earning the ESB, Pfc. Assan Ngum, who is assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, earned the EIB at Fort Walker.

“The gates they meet for ESB and the testing requirements they have are nearly the same as the EIB,” Walkup said. “Each group is allowed to adjust up to five events that can be catered more toward the overall Soldier and not just ‘Infantry.’”

The majority of those that pass have attempted the event more than once, he explained.

“Earning the badge means that you are an expert in your field, be it Infantry, medical, or in Soldier tasks in general.  Those that have earned the badge or have attempted to appreciate and respect what the badge means; they understand the amount of effort, the constant reps, and the discipline required in training, the stress, and the drive required to pin the award. 

Favaro, a Virginia Military Institute alum who has served in the Virginia Army National Guard since 2010, prepared both physically and mentally for the ESB.

“I knew I had to condition my body for the event, so I prepared myself through biweekly rucks increasing the weight and the distance each time while continuing with my normal workout routine,” he explained. “I prepared myself for the lanes by reading through my notes the last time I studied for it and looking through the Old Guard's EIB handbook to see if anything changed.”

The ESB tests Soldiers in many ways, Favaro explained, with each event being harder for different Soldiers depending on their skill level.

“I was more concerned with the mental aspects of the course,” he said. “My main tasks I wanted to make sure I had mastered were the weapons lanes, since this was the testing section that took me out last summer. Once I felt comfortable with those, I moved on to medical lanes, then patrol lanes. I felt comfortable with land navigation after having a few test periods on the course leading into test week.

“I would like to give a big shout-out to Sgt. Maj. Walkup for the mentorship and coaching leading up to the event,” Favaro said. “I wouldn't have had a chance without his efforts. I would also like to thank all my leadership for pushing me to continue to go for it.”

If a Soldier can qualify as an expert on their individual weapon and meet all the other minimal standards to compete in the event, Favaro recommends pursuing the ESB.

“Even if you don't badge, you will get hands-on experience doing Soldier level tasks that you normally wouldn't get the chance to do at the unit like, Call for Fire or Javelin training,” he said. “It's truly one of the best events for Soldiers to revamp or learn new skills as a National Guard Soldier that you typically won't have time for in a normal drilling year.”

Favaro also offered pointers to anyone looking to tackle the ESB.

“Make sure you self-reflect on what you might be deficient in, like land navigation or weapons, and get some practice on it before you show up for the event,” he said. “It's a fire hose of information and if you don't brush up on these skills beforehand, you will be struggling even harder during the train-up.”

“As I understand it there less than 50 EIB holders and now five total ESB holders in the state of Virginia,” Walkup explained. “I plan to keep the relationship with 3rd Infantry Regiment and hope to continue to increase our EIB and ESB recipients and next year maybe send a few to compete for their EFMB.”

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