By Melody Everly, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsAugust 25, 2017
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- For more than 70 years, the Expert Infantryman Badge has served as means of recognizing the professionalism and proficiency of the Army infantryman. Candidates study for weeks before completing a series of 37 grueling tasks comprising four lanes -- weapons, medical, patrol and a culminating exercise that stretches them to their limits, both mentally and physically.
While earning the coveted badge is a considerable achievement for the individual, the value of the EIB runs much deeper and has positive implications for the entire 10th Mountain Division, said Command Sgt. Robert Fortenberry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team senior enlisted adviser.
Fortenberry has led 2nd Brigade as they planned and built the testing site and instructed candidates in the skills they will need to perform to the best of their abilities. With the support of brigade commander, Col. Scott Himes, and more than 125 cadre, the commandos are facilitating the testing this week for Soldiers from across the division and the Army National Guard.
At its core, Fortenberry said, the EIB is about inspiring Soldiers to get back to basics and hone the skills that define them as infantrymen.
"The badge is a symbol to others that the Army has certified that you are a professional in your field, and there is a great deal of pride that comes with having earned that," he said. "It also shows others that you know your craft and you could serve in any formation and be an asset to that organization."
Although the structure of the EIB has evolved over the years, it has recently returned to a performance-based testing model, requiring Soldiers not only to demonstrate proficiency in each task, but to complete all steps in a specific sequence. Fortenberry said that this means infantrymen must study their manuals and practice each task repeatedly, so that they are able to recall this knowledge quickly and maintain their focus as they navigate through each training lane.
"To be successful, Soldiers really have to understand the intricacies of every single station and every task that they are required to perform," he said. "It has made it more mentally challenging, but it really increases the competence level and helps them develop the mental toughness that they need to handle the stresses and the rigors of their profession."
The value of having such highly skilled Soldiers within a unit cannot be overstated, Fortenberry said.
"As we move into the fall and start to complete our collective training -- live-fires, command post exercises and situational training exercises -- we are going to see what this yields, and that is well-trained, highly proficient Soldiers who have become a real combat enabler for their commanders."
Fortenberry said that the EIB also provides an opportunity for leaders to devote a large block of uninterrupted time to guiding and training Soldiers.
"The best thing about this is that it gives leaders an opportunity to teach, coach and mentor," he said. "That's what I love seeing the most -- the older generation and the newer generation of officers and NCOs working together and teaching their Soldiers to strive for excellence."
When preparing to facilitate an EIB, leaders are given the flexibility to choose some of the tasks from a menu of items, with the purpose of allowing them to customize the testing to meet the needs of their organization, Fortenberry said.
One of the menu items that he was most excited to be able to incorporate into the Commando EIB was a station where Soldiers are required to demonstrate proficiency in operating the M3 "Carl Gustave," a shoulder-fired multi-role weapons system that has been used extensively by special forces units since the 1980s and was recently fielded for use by infantry brigade combat teams in the Army and National Guard.
Fortenberry said he saw the potential to use the EIB as a means of completing widespread training on the weapon system.
"We added this as a station, and as a result, everyone in the EIB is now intimately familiar with how to operate and engage with a Carl Gustav and they are familiar with the capabilities of this valuable equipment," he said. "To be able to walk away from this EIB and confidently state that all of the infantrymen who came through the course are competent in operating this new equipment is huge -- it really benefits the division as a whole."
While statistically, fewer than 20 percent of those who begin an iteration of the EIB course will go on to earn the badge, Fortenberry said that the value of the EIB is something that will be evident in units across the division in the days ahead.
"Regardless of how many badges are handed out on Friday, we have put a lot of energy into this training, and that is something that is going to pay off," he said. "The Soldiers who walked onto this course Monday are going to leave with more knowledge, skills and competence than they started with. They will return to their units as better Soldiers and will raise the level of readiness within their unit, their brigade and the division. They should take great pride in their efforts and even more so in knowing that they are a part of making the Army team stronger."