FORT SILL, Okla., Nov. 2, 2017 — Three strikes and you’re out. Sometimes, even one mess-up will get you booted.
That’s why it’s so difficult for a Soldier to obtain the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB). The qualification test has nearly three dozen tasks — several of which do not have a redo option on a “no-go.” Without the EIB, it is rare for a staff sergeant to be promoted, according Sgt. 1st Class Casey Cornelius, operations noncommissioned officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Support (HHS), 434th Field Artillery Brigade, and one of the EIB qualifications organizers.
However, the small field of 41 infantrymen competing this year at Fort Sill boosted the typical success rate from less than 20 percent to 50 percent, said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Mills, HHS 434th FA Brigade, who helped organize the EIB test.
“The instructor-to-student ratio helped,” he said. “Usually there’s 900 people waiting two to three hours at a station (to practice), and they have to prioritize for trouble stations.” The small class size allowed as much time as one needed to hone skills, particularly on tasks the Soldier had less confidence.
All 22 candidates from Fort Sill were drill sergeants with infantryman military occupational specialties (MOS). One Soldier was from Fort Polk, La., and the rest were infantrymen from Fort Stewart, Ga. Stewart’s 1st Lt. Francis Beaudette, 27, led the field on the 12-mile forced march Oct. 27, coming in around 40 minutes ahead of the last tired troopers. This was his second try for the EIB.
Making it under the wire with 10 minutes to spare was Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Pete Legg, 95th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception), who was giving it his third and final try. At age 44, he was one of the oldest candidates, and his wife, Theresa was there to cheer him and the other Soldiers on.
But the march, which needed to be completed within three hours, wasn’t the end of the test. The anti-climax was a medical evacuation of a dummy casualty, which included evaluating and treating the wounds before strapping the 180-pound stand-in onto a stretcher and dragging it 50 meters.
The final test was weighing the pack they had just marched with. If it came in at less than 35 pounds, they were bounced.
All 21 marchers were successful. Graduation was held that afternoon at the 95th Reception Battalion headquarters.
Only Soldiers with a primary infantry 11-series MOS or the 18-series Special Forces branch (minus the 18D Special Forces medical sergeant) are eligible to compete for the EIB. All of the instructors wore the blue enamel EIB badge on their Operational Camouflage Pattern uniforms (OCPs), to make it easy for them to be identified by the students. Normally it is only worn on the dress uniform, with the cloth EIB exhibited on the OCPs.
Many there wore the Combat Infantryman Badge, earned during enemy engagements while deployed to a war zone. Still, having the EIB showed a Soldier possessed a unique set of skills at a level high enough to qualify him for the badge. Now that women are allowed into the infantry branch, it could just be a matter of time before the first U. S. Army women wear the badge, too. (The first of several Republic of Korea female soldiers qualified in October 2014.)
The qualification testing here began Oct. 23, with the Army Physical Fitness Test before dawn. It needed to be passed with an 80 percent score based on age, rather than the usual 60 percent. Failing any one of the tasks was an automatic disqualification.
Day and night land navigation was later that day. The next three days involved 30 weapons, medical, and patrol lanes. Three “no-goes” total would be enough to disqualify. A Soldier with two no-goes was “bladerunning,” meaning he skated on the thin edge of the knife between success and failure.
Those few who qualify without a single error are known as “true blue,” and can earn an Army Commendation Medal or Army Achievement Medal to boot. Cornelius was a true blue during his EIB qualification in 2004, at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“Two out of the 14 who completed last year were true blue,” he said. This year it was seven, and they were also awarded the Army Achievement Medal.
Cornelius said all of the tasks are common Soldier tasks perfected to a higher degree in the infantry. “We’re the front line Soldiers, the very first group to meet the enemy,” he said. “Everything else supports our actions.”
He said a friendly rivalry exists between MOSs, but the interconnectedness is acknowledged by everyone.
“We know that without the supply guys we don’t get food. Without field artillery we can’t put down masses of fire. The Air Force, Navy, it all plays into the larger role.”
RITE OF PASSAGE
Fort Sill Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Lutgens was on hand during one of the practice days to observe the Soldiers going through the same thing he did years ago.
“This is a rite of passage,” said Lutgens. “Infantry is not a glamorous job; there’s a much higher mortality on the battlefield. This recognizes them as professionals. You aren’t going to find a CSM in our field without an EIB.”
All of the tests must be performed “to standard” as taught in the instruction books. Real world applications often involve work-arounds or shortcuts, which might achieve the same goal but would disqualify a candidate for the EIB.
Lutgens said the testing pushes a Soldier to rely on muscle memory under stress. “When the bullets are flying you might skip a step or two, but you get it done. But you need to make sure your shortcuts don’t get you killed.”
Attention to detail is critical during the EIB, he said. “Sometimes it’s a simple task that will get a no-go.”
Cornelius acknowledged the difficulty of achieving the EIB when even simple mistakes or shortcomings can ruin the experience for a Soldier. “You could come in at three hours and two seconds in the road march and you’re done,” he said.
Fortunately, all 21 who began the march on that cold, windy morning finished it with time to spare.
They now wear the musket on a blue background, a hard-earned reward for the “tough, thankless job” (as Lutgens said during their graduation) that is the infantryman’s trade.
Fort Sill Drill Sergeants (Staff Sgts.)
Matthew Arthur, C Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery
Nicholas Campbell, B Battery, 95th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception)
John Michael Deserio, C Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery
*Curtis Jensen, B Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery
Pete Legg, A Battery, 95th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception)
Jon Schroeder, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery
Daniel Whitt, E Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery
*Daniel Youngblood, E Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery
Fort Sill Drill Sergeants (Sgt. 1st Class)
James Reynolds, A Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery
Fort Polk, La.
Staff Sgt. Joshu Prince
Fort Stewart, Ga. 2nd Brigade
1st Lt. Francis Beaudette
1st Lt. James Bell
Sgt. Jermey Conner
1st Sgt. Logan Deen
*2nd Lt. John Jovan
*2nd Lt. Carl Mitchell
Pfc. Chasen Neff
*1st Lt. Stephen Plante
2nd Lt. Daniel Roldan
*2nd Lt. Brett Somerville
*Staff Sgt. Brandon Stabile
Pictured above: Sgt. 1st Class Justin Evans (right), Headquarters and Headquarters Support, 434th Field Artillery Brigade executive officer, holds up the timer for Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Seth Davenport, A Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery, during practice with the M240 machine gun, Oct. 20, 2017. The practice week at Fort Sill, Okla., was in preparation for the Expert Infantryman Badge qualifications the following week.