FORT JACKSON, S.C. (April 10, 2014) -- At the start of the Expert Infantryman Badge qualifications last week, 72 Soldiers had signed up to put their skills to the test. Of those, 24 finished, with five receiving "true blue" designation, meaning they completed all tasks without error.

The Expert Infantryman Badge exists to showcase the commitments of professional infantrymen, said Fort Jackson Command Sgt. Maj. William Hain. The 3-inch-wide metal badge depicts a 1795 model Springfield Arsenal musket on a light blue background, and for the Army's infantrymen it symbolizes becoming the best of the best.

"It's not a lifelong achievement award," Hain said of the badge. "It shows, at one point in an infantryman's career, his ability to move, shoot and communicate with near perfection. It's not simple by any stretch."

The Expert Infantryman Badge was established in 1944 as an award to honor the Army infantryman. The first round of tests took place that year at Fort Bragg, N.C., with 100 Soldiers from the 100th Infantry Division taking part.

The original tasks required Soldiers to qualify with a variety of weapons, complete a 25-mile foot march with full field equipment in less than eight hours, and complete infiltration, close combat, and combat-in-cities courses.

The criteria for qualifying for the Expert Infantryman Badge have changed since 1944, but have always stressed physical fitness, weapons proficiency and common Soldier skills, such as land navigation and foot marching.

"The EIB is as hard as it ever was," Hain said during last week's badge presentation. "It's changed many, many times over the years, but the bottom line is that it's never been easy. We started off last week at train-up with about 72 folks, and had 68 take the APFT. (Today) we've got 24 EIB recipients here. That's a big deal."

Staff Sgt. Ruben Roundtree, of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, was one of five Soldiers to qualify for "true blue" at the end of last week's trials.

"I always wanted to be a person who carried both badges, the Combat Infantry Badge and the EIB," Roundtree said. "I started out as a military policeman. When I was a young Soldier, my platoon sergeant reclassed from the infantry, and all he talked about was, 'The best of the best wear the EIB.'"

"True blue" recipient Staff Sgt. Christopher Perry, of the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, said he prepared for last week's tests simply by practicing for them.

"I just did a lot of physical training and a lot of road marches," Perry said. "As far as the taskers, as long as you do it to their standards, you won't have any issues with the tasks."

He said he had not anticipated earning "true blue" status.

"I just wanted my EIB," he said.

Roundtree said participating Soldiers from his unit continued to prepare throughout the week's activities.

"Honestly, when I went through each lane, I took a lot of notes," he said. "My unit only lost one guy from our entire battalion through lane training. We would go back after training and test each other on the tasks after work. We came in on the weekend and did road marches on our own, and tested each other on PT, as well."