Fort Stewart, GA -- Over the past several weeks, 1st Brigade Combat Team and 2nd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers kicked up their day-to-day pace a notch when they trained and earned the Expert Infantry Badge at the Marne Obstacle Course, here.

The Soldiers' opportunity to earn their EIB came as a rare one; this year's competition for the award served as the first time since 2002 that EIB training had been held at Fort Stewart.

The award itself, challenging infantry Soldiers to be proficient and skilled in several infantryman tasks and drills, stands as one of the most prominent badges to be worn by an infantrymen.

Sergeant 1st Class Terry Upchurch, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT, and non-commissioned officer in charge of the EIB training, said that the EIB training isn't just important because it perfects the Soldiers' skills, but also because of the tradition and honor the award holds.

"The EIB was first awarded in October of 1943," said Upchurch. "Back then, it tested infantrymen on their basic skills and awarded them if they were found able to perform them correctly. Today, the same standards are held to these Soldiers and this award still validates a true infantryman."

The training consisted of tasks trained and tested at 36 different stations on the EIB test grounds.

Moving under direct fire, camouflaging self and equipment, sharpening first aid skills, map reading, grenade launching, and firing several weapons successfully, including the .50 Caliber and the M249 all were a part of the 36 stations that made up the EIB training.

While training at the sites for sometimes over eight hours a day may have seemed rough, the Soldiers were required to complete a set of prerequisites before they were even allowed to participate in any of the training toward earning their badge.

All Soldiers competing for the EIB hiked a 12-mile ruck march within three hours, carrying 35 lbs of weight, completed a night and day land navigation challenge, passed all portions of an Army Physical Fitness Test by 75 percent or more in each event, and qualified expert on the M-4 and the M-16.

Though the task of earning an EIB seemed to be no walk in the park, Soldiers seemed to be excited, motivated and ready to train, said Staff Sgt. Andrew D. Debastiani, HHC, 2nd BCT grader at the move-under-direct-fire station.

"I can sense the Soldiers' motivation every time they move up and down my lane," he said. "It's amazing to see them work so hard and keep high spirits at the same time. I am definitely feeding off of their energy."

Private First Class Noah Summerhays, Company A, 1/30th Inf., said excitement wasn't the only thing he felt as he trained for his EIB; he said he could also feel himself carving his path as an infantryman and as a Soldier.

"Earning the EIB sets you apart from your peers," said Summerhays. "They look at you differently once you get it, and you are also more likely to be placed in leadership positions. I am pretty excited about having this chance to get my EIB; this could also mean possible promotion points for me."

The Soldiers' training and pre-testing periods lasted Jan. 20 - 30 at the sites, and upon finishing this, Soldiers were tested Feb. 2 - 4 to determine if they were knowledgeable enough in their skills to become the infantry's next group of EIB awardees.

During testing, Soldiers attempted all of the 36 sites and had to be successful at each site in order to earn an EIB.

The Soldiers were only allowed one "no-go" or miss at each station; if they received two no-gos at any station alone, they were automatically eliminated, and if they received three no-gos overall, they were also automatically eliminated.

All Soldiers receiving a "go" at every station on the first try were recognized as "True Blue" competitors and were awarded with distinction at an award ceremony.

The award ceremony, which kicked off with the EIB awardees running from the wood line through clouds of smoke, was held Feb. 6 at Marne Obstacle Course.

Families; Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, 3rd ID commanding general; fellow Soldiers and many more were in attendance to watch as Soldiers were pinned with their badges.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Etheridge, EIB awardee and guest speaker of the ceremony, said that when the EIB was awarded to him during his time in the Army it was known as the 'mark of a man' - and it still is today.

"These Soldiers standing before you gave up nights, weekends, and free time to study hard, work hard and to focus on something that we infantrymen know as more than a pretty badge," said Etheridge. "The EIB signifies expertise at our job and shows our endless dedication to our craft."

Sergeant 1st Class Steve Stutzman, Company A, 1/30th, 2nd BCT, the highest ranking NCO to be awarded the EIB that day, said that the experience was long overdue for him.

"The EIB is the epitome of an infantryman," he said. "Even though I have plenty of experience using my skills, the badge clarifies that I am truly an expert at what I do."