CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait, –
Hours before sunrise and the inevitable, stifling heat of Kuwait in late May, 176 infantry Soldiers lined up on the turf of Camp Buehing’s athletic field, ready for the first event in what would be a grueling week of testing for a common, coveted goal: the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB).
The EIB is a U.S. Army special skills badge with a history dating back to 1943. More than that, it is a symbol, signifying that the wearer is an expert in his or her craft, said Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Chrysler, senior NCO for 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
Approximately three months into their rotation in support of Operation Spartan Shield, the 3rd ABCT hosted EIB testing from May 27 – June 1, inviting infantry Soldiers deployed across the U.S. Army Central Command (ARCENT) area of operations to train and compete for their badge. More than 300 Soldiers from various units showed for the nearly month-long train-up phase, but by the start of the start of the first event – a fitness test which required 49 pushups, 59 sit-ups, and a 32-minute four-mile run – only half remained.
From there, it would only get harder.
Per standards released by the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, EIB testing takes place over the course of a week, with seven main events: a physical fitness assessment, day and nighttime land navigation courses, 10 stations each of weapons, medical, and patrol lane testing, and finally, a timed 12-mile ruck march.
While all EIB events are graded on a pass or fail basis (“go” or “no-go”), during the 10 stations of weapons, medical, and patrol lanes, Soldiers are allowed one first-time no-go per day. A second no-go on the same station or at any other station on the same day of testing would result in disqualification.
According to Chrysler, only 13 to 15 percent of Soldiers who begin their EIB journey will earn it, and the significance of that is not lost on promotion boards, where the EIB can become a determining factor in an infantry Soldier’s career progression.
With notoriously high attrition rates, units usually spend as much time as possible preparing Soldiers for EIB testing, and 3ABCT was no different. The unit brought in EIB holders from seven units within the ARCENT area of operations to act as cadre, and spent three weeks training Soldiers on the tasks, conditions, and standards required to achieve a “go” on every event, from grenade throw to moving under direct fire to treating a sucking chest wound, as well as the 30-odd other tasks required to earn the badge.
Ultimately, of the 176 Soldiers who began testing, 61 earned their EIB. Of those 61, 27 were Iron Brigade Soldiers. The rest came from seven other units spread throughout the ARCENT area of operations, and included Soldiers from 101st Airborne Division and the New Jersey National Guard, among others.
“Total we had 34.66 percent of eligible candidates receive their EIB; almost three times the Army average,” Chrysler said. “I attribute this to the competence, displayed expertise, and professionalism of the cadre and the relentless demand for excellence by the Soldiers competing.”
Besides the already rigorous demands that come with EIB testing, Chrysler credited the Soldiers for performing so well in extreme conditions.
“This EIB was conducted in extremely harsh conditions - harder than mine. Soldiers spent more than 12 hours a day enduring 110 degree (or higher) temperatures for three weeks. I can absolutely say that this EIB was harder, from a conditions standpoint, than any other that I have seen or participated in,” he said.
The Soldiers, it seemed, agreed.
“If you’re going to go for your EIB, I recommend not doing it in Kuwait,” said Sgt. Alan Garcia, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3ABCT, who earned his EIB during this round of testing. “It’s never going to be easy, but doing it in the heat added to the challenge.”
Pvt. Justin Rosier, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3ABCT, attributed his success to the training he received during train up and attention to detail.
“When you’re going through train-up and you’ve got the cadre teaching you all the tasks, you’ve got to pay close attention, otherwise something’s going to slip through the cracks,” he said. “A lot of candidates are really motivated, but they rush through just trying to get to the next lane. You’ve got to slow down and make sure to take your time, study each individual station.”
Among the 61 awardees was 1st Lt. Shelby DePriest, the first female EIB awardee in the 4th Infantry Division. The 4th Infantry Division began incorporating female infantry officers less than two years ago, but DePriest did not seem phased by the accomplishment.
“I’m just like any other Solider out here testing,” she said.
Soldiers completed testing with the 12-mile ruck march in the early morning hours of June 1, and received their EIBs in an award ceremony the same afternoon.
Col. Michael J. Simmering, commander of the 3ABCT, congratulated the awardees and made his expectations of them clear:
“For those of you who earned your EIB, the only thing I’ve got to say is you’re not done,” he said. “You have another test ahead of you. We create experts in our formation not so you can feel good about yourself, not so you can wear a badge, but with the expectation that you remain worthy of wearing this badge going forward, and that you represent each day not just what this means for you, but for any unit you’re a part of.”