FORT HOOD, Texas -- An infantryman stood in a dusty field calling to two other Soldiers, holding out his fist to bump each of theirs as the passed by, "one more lane, a 12-mile ruck and we're done."
These were some of the self-motivating words heard from the infantrymen with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division before they pressed forward on the last two portions of the week-long Expert Infantryman Badge test Sept. 26 at Fort Hood, Texas.
"The EIB is all about the infantry guys that came before us," said Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Spinks, first sergeant for Company B, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd BCT. "It's all about the veterans and warriors before you."
As a long-time EIB holder, Sgt. 1st Class Jose Martinez, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the EIB testing for 3rd BCT, said that all 11-series military occupational specialty Soldiers should treat the EIB as their play-offs. He said you have to go to the play-offs before going to the Super Bowl.
A total of 309 Soldiers from throughout 3rd BCT and Fort Hood began their journey for the coveted EIB Sept. 23 with the Army Physical Fitness Test. The Soldiers were required to score 75 points in each event of the APFT - the push-up, sit-up and two-mile run -- which is 15 points above the Army standard of 60.
Upon completion of the APFT, only 182 Soldiers remained to face the next challenge: day and night land navigation.
The 3rd Brigade's EIB attrition rate was consistent with what other Army units experience, with only 10 to 15 percent of the total candidates completing the testing.
"I don't know if it was from these guys staying out in the field for train up or if it's just nerves," said Martinez.
Day and night land navigation posed a problem for many of the candidates as well. The requirement was to physically locate three out of the four given grid coordinates within two hours on one of Fort Hood's training areas, first during the day, and again later at night.
By morning on the 24th, only 62 Soldiers remained, and were separated equally onto three lanes: the patrol lane, traffic control point lane and urban operations lane.
Over the course of the next three days and nights, the Infantrymen would complete one lane a day, each lane each presenting their own challenges that would test more of their infantry skills
The patrol lane consisted of tasks such as identifying terrain features on a map, controlling bleeding on a casualty, moving under direct fire, preparing a night vision device, to reporting intelligence information.
On the traffic control point lane, Soldiers performed a functions check on an M240B 7.62mm machine gun -- loading, correcting a malfunction and unloading the M240B, performed first aid for an open head wound, determined the grid of a location on a military map and properly searched an individual.
Among the tasks facing the infantrymen on the urban operations lane were preparing an antitank weapon for firing and performing misfire procedures, employing and identifying hand grenades, and performing first aid on a suspected fracture and on an abdominal wound -- then to call for a medical evacuation.
"The most strenuous part for me was the first aid of the urban lane," Spinks said. "It was very challenging."
Each lane involved 10 tasks and eight of those had to be considered a 'go,' or pass. Anymore than two tasks with a 'no-go,' or fail, the Soldier would be disqualified from attaining the EIB.
"The attrition rate was so high at this point," Spinks said. "I felt the pressure and a little case of nervousness because what you don't want to do is mess up on the little things."
Following the three lanes, in the pitch black of one of Fort Hood's training areas, with no moon to light their way and humidity that made the air stagnant and difficult to breath, the infantrymen gathered with chemical lights attached to their helmets, ready to defeat their final task: the ruck march.
Ultimately, 30 infantrymen - Spinks included - remained for the final task: marching 20 km, approximately 12.5 miles, with at least 35lbs in their rucksacks and in less than three hours.
Almost two hours of silence went by in the darkness, then, one-by-one, the sound of shuffling boots on gravel, rucksacks shifting and swaying, and the groan of pain from the Soldiers started to fill the air as the men began trickling in toward the finish line.
As dawn was starting to break, only 23 weary Soldiers were able to complete the 20 km within the three hour time frame. From a starting group of 309, only these 23 infantrymen finished all tasks successfully and earned the Expert Infantry Badge.
Follow the awards ceremony, with his newly-earned EIB pinned to his chest, Spinks reflected on the challenges of the week.
"At the end, you just have to pay attention to detail and give it all you've got," he said.