FORT HOOD, Texas -- A key belief of leaders throughout the Army is the concept of setting the standard and leading from the front.
In keeping with this ideology, 27 Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment "Ghost," 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division demonstrated this commitment when they vied for a chance to earn the Expert Infantryman Badge Dec. 7-11 at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
"For officers, you need to lead from the front, so you need the badge," said Capt. Michael Chavez, 2-7 Cav assistant intelligence officer. "For enlisted personnel, this counts for promotion points, and it's also the same thing. If you're going to be a leader, it's expected that you're an expert in your field, which is why the Expert Infantryman Badge is very important for leaders."
The EIB training and testing comprised 43 different tests of the infantryman's critical skills, including an Army Physical Fitness Test, which he must pass with at least 75 percent in every event for his age group; day and night land navigation, where he must find three out of four points within two hours; along with assembly, disassembly and functions checks on weapons such as the M240, MARK 19, M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, and the M-4 Carbine; and a 12-mile road march completed within three hours.
While the collection of skills tested are basic and expected of all infantrymen, the "Ghost" Soldiers had to make the cut before being selected to travel from Fort Hood, Texas to compete.
Leaders from 2-7 Cav put together a mini-EIB, consisting of an APFT, land navigation, expert qualification on the M-4 Carbine, and a 12-mile road march all at EIB standards.
Of all the battalion's Soldiers, this group of 27 achieved the standard and earned the privilege to compete for the badge.
Although they had been training within their companies and during their off-duty time, the Troopers arrived here a week prior to the start of testing to continue to train on the necessary skills.
"Every weekend I'd go on about a four to six-mile road march, and in the mornings I'd pretty much just run about four to five miles," Chavez said.
Though this was his first time attempting the EIB, Chavez said he felt confident in his abilities and knowledge, which paid off because he walked away with a new adornment for his uniform.
"Honestly, I think the hardest part we've already completed," said the Raleigh, North Carolina native. "And the guys that are going down [from Fort Hood] to Fort Polk have shown that they can complete it. It takes a lot to finish that 12-miler with a certain packing list in three hours, so the guys that we have have proven themselves worthy of it."
One of those guys who didn't enter into this adventure with the same amount of certainty as Chavez was Sgt. Tyler Meier, schools noncommissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-7 Cav.
"Honestly, my worst scare was night land nav, because one, I don't like the dark and two, I hadn't done it in a really long time," said Meier, a native of Ottumwa, Iowa.
But Meier used his nerves to his advantage and earned the EIB, he said.
"You're always going to be nervous no matter what you do because there's always that option of failure, but that's what helped me out I think," he said. "It humbled me, because if you go in there overconfident, then you're like, 'Oh I know everything,' then you don't really pay attention. So you being nervous makes you settle down and realize I have to pay attention and I have to do this, because I don't know everything."
The fact that only six of the original 27 earned the badge speaks to the difficulty of the testing and the accomplishment of those who do make it.
The skills tested during EIB had to be done meticulously, step-by-step, by the book.
"It's all knowledge-based," said Chavez. "It's step-by-step. You miss one of the steps in sequence, it'll get you a no-go."
As easy as it was to get knocked out of the competition, it was that much more meaningful when Meier earned his, as he was classified as "true blue," meaning he did it without a single no-go.
"It's always been something I wanted to do," Meier said. "Being infantry, you have to show that you know what you're doing, so this is one of those steps."
He knew what it felt like to go after it and not make it, since this was his second attempt at the badge.
Previously, three separate no-gos eliminated him, but this time his story had a happy ending and he ended the event with much more confidence than he started with.
"I'm confident in what I do and I'm not afraid to say it and show it to people, so I had to back it up," Meier said. "It's an honor. EIB is one of those prestigious things that not everyone has ... it means a lot for me."