In an elite group
September 27, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- It was a grueling week for the more than 100 Fort Jackson Soldiers hoping to earn the Expert Infantryman Badge. Soldiers had to demonstrate their skills in map reading, first aid, language and protocol as gunfire and cries for help echoed throughout the surrounding forest.
The number of Soldiers still qualified to participate in the evaluation dwindled daily. Fort Jackson Command Sgt. Major Kevin Benson said 120 candidates had signed up and, of those, "116 had the intestinal fortitude" to show up for the first day's physical training challenge. Only 61 were left standing afterward.
Only 26 Soldiers were left by the time of the final day's 12-mile road march early Friday morning.
"It was pretty hard, and it was nerve-racking seeing that many people drop out," said Sgt. 1st Class Kamilo Lara, of Company C, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment. "We started with (about) 120 and, on the last day, there were maybe 10 waiting for each lane. The group got smaller and smaller. It was stressful."
Last week was Lara's second attempt at the EIB. During his first attempt, an error on the traffic control point lane ultimately disqualified him. Having been through the process twice, he recommended Soldiers trying for the badge concentrate their energies on completing the task at hand.
"Take one task at a time," Lara said. "Don't worry about what's next. Worry about the lane that you're doing."
The EIB is presented for completing a series of tests illustrating proficiency in infantry skills. It was introduced in 1944 by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall as a means of promoting esprit de corps within the infantry.
Over the years, the test had evolved into a time-consuming, weeklong event. A new format was designed in 2009 to be more combat-focused and promoted decision-making skills in critical, ambiguous situations.
The test includes a physical fitness test, day and night land navigation, a 12-mile foot march, and missions along urban, patrol and traffic-control point lanes showcasing scenarios a Soldier might typically face in combat.
"The lanes are tactically driven," said Brig. Gen Bryan Roberts, Fort Jackson commanding general. "You have to make decisions in the lanes, look at whether you do security first, treat the wounded or attack the enemy. It makes you think. That's what we're trying to get all of our Soldiers to be able to do -- to make decisions. I think we've got the right mix in terms of the task and the scenarios that drive it."
Staff Sgt. Edward Jervis, an EIB grader with Company D, 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, said the difference between the EIB and the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) is a matter of competence.
"With the EIB, you have to actually prove your proficiency," he said. "Whereas the CIB, it's earned and well-respected, but a Day One Soldier can get the CIB. With the EIB you have to show that you are proficient at your task, and that you can teach it, as well."
"When you get it, you're in an elite group," said Command Sgt. Major Eddie Devalle, 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment. "In order for (an infantryman) to get promoted to sergeant major, you need this award. If you don't get the EIB, you can't even think about making sergeant major these days."