Soldiers vie for infantry expertise
May 3, 2012
Two deployed Soldiers on a patrol meet a suspicious Middle Eastern man. One of the Soldiers utters basic phrases in Arabic to him: "stop," "stay where you are" and "do not resist." As they detain the local, the Soldiers begin receiving small arms fire and one of them is hit. The unharmed Soldier must make a decision -- does he first return fire, or immediately administer first aid to his battle buddy?
This was one of the scenarios Soldiers faced as they tested for the Expert Infantry Badge April 25 at the 1st Lt. Frederick Henry Individual Tactics and Techniques Training Complex here. Staff from Company C, 434th Field Artillery Detachment sponsored the annual rigorous competition, which was open to Fort Sill infantrymen and special forces Soldiers.
"It's the best badge that we wear as infantrymen," said competitor Staff Sgt. Chris Castlebury, C/434th FA Det. "This is one of the our biggest tests. It will prove that I'm an expert at my job."
The competition began April 23 with 24 Soldiers testing in the EIB Physical Readiness Test, which requires a minimum 75 percent to pass for push ups, sit ups and a two-mile run, said Sgt. 1st Class Robert McLauchlin, C/424th FA Det. Basic Rifle Marksmanship Branch chief and coordinator of the event.
Soldiers were also tested in reconnaissance, defense and patrol lanes; each lane had 10 tasks, and one of the tasks was decision making.
They were also evaluated on Soldiers skills such as day and night land navigation, weapons proficiency, first aid, communications, and nuclear, biological, chemical procedures.
If task and subtasks were broken down into individual steps, there are about 1,500 steps a Soldier must know and usually perform in sequence, said Staff Sgt. Shaun Kelley, C/434th FA instructor.
For example, to conduct a functions check on a 240B machine gun, one must pull the charging handle, place the weapon on safe, return the charging handle, pull the trigger to ensure the safety works and bolt doesn't slide forward, pull the charging handle to the rear, put the weapons on fire and then ride the bolt forward, Kelley said.
By the morning of Day 3, the number of competitors had been reduced to 10, which was not uncommon, McLauchlin said. At some of the large infantry posts where he has conducted EIB testing, the failure rate was upward of 70 percent.
Although he earned his EIB on his first attempt as a 17-year-old private, Sgt. 1st Class Clarence Sillik, C/434th FA Det. range noncommissioned officer in charge, said that is not the norm.
"A lot of individuals will earn it on their second or third attempt," Sillik said.
On Day 3, Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Preston Parris, B/1-31st FA, said the most challenging event thus far was night land navigation, where Soldiers had to find three points up to 1,000 meters away without a map, only night observation equipment.
"That one had my nerves tore up the most," said Parris, who would go on to earn the EIB.
He said none of the events were easy. "They were all (combat) scenarios that you would see in Iraq or Afghanistan," Parris said. "It was outcome-based training."
The competition concluded April 27 for the remaining nine Soldiers. At zero-dark-thirty they began a 12-mile road march with 35-pound rucksacks and full "battle rattle" which had to be completed within three hours. The last event took out three more competitors.
Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Kyle Pierce, D/1-31st FA, is one of the few infantryman drill sergeants at Fort Sill. He said it was fortunate that Soldiers in his military occupational specialty had the opportunity to test for the EIB at Fort Sill.
"I never thought I would have a chance to earn my EIB here," Pierce said. "Last year, I tried at Fort Benning (Ga.), but night land navigation got me."
Col. Gregory Dewitt, 434th FA Brigade commander, "tacked" the six Soldiers who passed the EIB test with their badges April 27 during a ceremony outside his brigade headquarters.
McLauchlin said overall the competition went well although he would have liked to seen Dewitt presenting more EIBs.
"But that's what makes it so coveted, you have to be able to perform up to the very end," he said.