YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea -- Earlier this year in May, Soldiers from across the Korean Peninsula converged on Camp Casey in Dongducheon, South Korea for a chance to earn one the U.S. Army's most distinguished awards; the Expert Infantry Badge (EIB).

Testing for the EIB measures a Soldier's physical fitness and ability to perform a broad spectrum of critical infantry skills to standards of excellence. The training is intended to be rigorous, and only the best warriors successfully qualify.

To earn the EIB Soldiers must score at least 80% in each category of the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) under the male standard for their age, complete a day and night land navigation course, qualify as an expert on their assigned weapon, complete a 12-mile forced march in three hours, complete the tasks associated with the clearance of Objective Bull in under 20 minutes, and receive a "go" in more than 30 individualized infantry tasks. If a Soldier receives two "no-gos" at the same lane station or accumulates a total of 3 "no-gos" during the individualized infantry tasks they are disqualified.

Conspicuous among the group of participants at Camp Casey from May 23-26 were four female officers from the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army. Prior to the event no female ROK Officer had ever successfully completed the requirements to earn the U.S. Army EIB. While all four were eager to be the first to earn the EIB only one was left standing as the sun drew down on the last day of testing; 1st Lt. Jung, Ji Eun, a platoon leader from the ROK 115th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, 90th Mech. Inf. Brigade, 30th Mech. Inf. Division.

"I have always dreamed of wearing the blue badge on my uniform," said Jung, "and because I was representing the ROK Army it gave me additional motivation to show what we are capable of."
At 25 years old Jung had to pass one of the most difficult age-groups for the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) with a minimum requirement of 57 push-ups, 65 sit-ups and a 2-mile run in under 14 minutes 48 seconds.

"I did 200 sit-ups and 200 push-ups each day and ran all the time to get ready," she said. "Once I met the standard I could have kept going, but the graders told us to save our strength for the rest of the competition."

Another concern for Jung leading up to the event was the lane testing where Soldiers are required to demonstrate a proficiency with a variety of U.S. Army weapon systems ranging from the M9 semi-automatic pistol to the Mark 19 Grenade Launcher.

"Since this was the first time I had (tested) for the U.S. EIB…I was unfamiliar with all of the (U.S.) equipment," she explained. "Leading up to the event I watched videos and took classes until it all became second nature."

It is not unusual for EIB graders to go out of their way to make the testing more difficult for participants in an effort to protect the status of the award. Early on during the testing Jung came across a few "badge protectors", but as more and more soldiers dropped out she found the cadre rooting for her to make it through.

"There were two guys who joked around after the first APFT," she recounted. "They were like, 'Oh you are still alive', because I was the only female left in the competition at that point. Later on during the Ruck March those same graders were actually encouraging me to continue."

The competition is meant to put stress on the competitors to mimic an actual combat situation. The testing phase, especially, acts as a rite of passage stretching over several days, with the number of candidates steadily dwindling and the pressure correspondingly increasing.

"I never had a moment where I wanted to give up, but it was really difficult," she said. "As time passes there are fewer soldiers in the competition and you begin to get nervous, but I kept thinking about the badge and it motivated me to keep going."

"Another experience that stands out was when I failed my first Mark 19 (proficiency) test, and I had to retake it," she recalled. "I thought the sergeant who was conducting the test was a little upset with me because he wanted to see me succeed, but during the ceremony he told me how proud he was of me for finishing and we exchanged badges."

The ROK Army has allowed females to serve in combat-roles since 1999 and with the recent U.S. Department of Defense decision to open all military occupational specialties and branches to female Service Members, Jung's story serves as a powerful motivator. When asked how she thinks females will fare as the policy is implemented across the force Jung didn't hesitate to respond.

"I think there will be a lot of great female infantry soldiers now that there is opportunity," she said. "There have been female soldiers in the U.S. Army who have finished Ranger School and the U.S. has a great talent pool of female Soldiers to draw from."

Despite all that she has accomplished Jung remains grounded and knows that she must continue to work hard to set the example for other female Soldiers to follow.
"Being the first is a little bit of a burden, but it also boosted my confidence," she explained. "Now that it has set it in I realize that I still have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish so I need to continue to push hard."