GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - When asked how he felt about earning his Expert Infantry Badge, Spc. Heath Stacy said with a low, calm voice, "I am so happy that I got this."
Relieved to be one of the 62 infantrymen to successfully pass the EIB testing on Sept. 15, 2017, Stacy, a member of the sniper squad in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, sat almost motionless on his ruck taking in his accomplishment.
"It was pretty tough and pretty stressful. More stressful than I thought it would be," he said slightly over a whisper while he rested after completing the last events of the week; the 12-mile ruck march and Objective Bull, a treat and evacuate a casualty task.
Rewind back to 4 a.m. on the cold, damp morning of Sept. 11, when 402 infantrymen stepped up to the start line for the Army Physical Fitness Test. The EIB standard score of 80 percent in the push-up, sit-up and 2-mile run events weeded out several candidates within minutes. Reinforcing the old adage that 'Nothing worth having comes easy'.
The 2d Cavalry Regiment from Rose Barracks, Germany hosted the EIB training and test week from Sept. 6 through 15 for their own Dragoon Soldiers and infantrymen from 7th Army Training Command, Europe and 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado who are on a nine month rotation in Germany.
All events took place in the Grafenwoehr Training Area.
As the soggy first day continued, candidates found their way through the land navigation course, looking for four points they had to plot on a map themselves. They negotiated the course during day and night conditions. Although finding three points for each condition resulted in a 'go', candidate numbers dwindled.
By the time the infantrymen began the second day, only 248 were still in the game. Thirty stations spread out equally into three lanes, Medical, Patrol and Weapons. The men had to execute each Warrior task and drill by the book.
Groups of Soldiers were assigned one lane a day. They stood in line or practiced the task before being called to perform. If it wasn't nerve racking enough, the grader held up a stop watch before fingers touched the equipment to indicate the clock would be ticking.
"I did not know it was going to be so stressful going into it," said 1st Lt. Lucas Baker, platoon leader for Scout Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 2CR. "You have to take it one task at a time and you have to focus on that task at that specific time. If you do not take it one step at a time you will lose sight of what you are doing and you will ultimately fail."
Medical Lane consisted of first aid tasks that included splinting broken bones, controlling bleeding and treating burns. The Patrol lane had them donning protective mask, communicating with a tactical radio and throwing hand grenades.
The Soldiers disassembled and reassembled rifles and machine guns, and set up a claymore mine while going through the Weapons Lane.
"It goes back to the basics, it's all skill level 1 tasks," remarked Sgt. 1st Class Muhammadun Abdallah, event coordinator, assigned to Regimental Headquarter and Headquarters Troop, 2CR.
From station to station, infantrymen made their way with a checklist in hand, hoping the next task would not be their last. Some were silent. Some talked amongst a group, coaching each other before their turn or offering encouragement to a 'Blade Runner'.
A 'Blade Runner' is a term used for someone who is one 'no-go' away from being eliminated from the course.
Staff Sgt. Cameron Angers, the sniper section leader in Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 2CR, knows the term all too well. This was his third time making the attempt to earn his badge.
"The course was grueling but, they set it up really well," Angers said. "The instructors were very good, all the graders gave us a lot of good pointers, a lot of good sequences during train up. They were definitely there to help us get it."
With a 'go' at all stations and a 12-mile ruck behind him, he can rest easy and think about how he can help young infantrymen earn theirs.
"I do not think I have ever been this anxious for so many days. I am glad to finally get it done," Angers said before he let out a long slow breath. "I am ready to get out next time and grade (Soldiers) and help them get their badge."
A way to help Soldiers earn their badge is to give them the resources and help them train. The Fort Benning web site has a pamphlet for download that lists each task that is tested during an EIB course. Technical manuals break down tasks into steps.
Abdallah explained that bad habits were the leading cause of some of the failures. The tasks that Soldiers do not perform much anymore were the tasks the Soldiers performed surprisingly well, like donning a protective mask. The bad habits are with radio procedures and weapons proficiency. The things Soldiers do on a consistent basis.
"Taking (weapons) apart and putting them back together, conducting a functions test; a lot of them have difficulties with that due to the small steps," he continued. "For example, palm up or palm down depending on the weapon system."
Infantrymen are all in it together. Officer and enlisted are eligible to earn the badge. They can share in the agony of defeat or celebrate in triumph.
"It is a pretty cool opportunity for us as officers and lot of our senior enlisted guys that we were in the same training event with our junior enlisted guys doing the same stuff," Baker said. "We stayed with them through the training and testing, so there is a lot of shared comradery that we don't otherwise get when we go to the field. Everyone from private up to captain; all doing the exact same thing to the exact same standard."
"Honestly I feel pretty lucky to get it the first time. I am very glad I came out here," he concluded.
A lot of guys do not give up. Third time is a charm for Spc. Coty Surrounded, a Stryker Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicle crewmember assigned to Quickstrike Troop, 3rd Squadron, 2CR.
"Feels like a thousand pounds lifted off my shoulders. It is something that separates myself from my peers and sets me up for success for the future," Surrounded explained as to why he kept coming back for more. "It feels good, because I am a lifer so, I am glad I got it early."
The EIB is definitely not just some chest candy. A bit of pride and a sense of accomplishment can be seen on the faces of those who walked the stage during the ceremony on Sept. 15 to have their blue badge pinned to their jacket by friends, Family and leadership.
"It is hard. It does take a while but in the end that smile, that tear you see in that Soldiers' eye once he pins on that EIB and that he made it through however long it took him to earn it, it pays off," Abdallah said.