By Sgt. Nicholas HolmesNovember 7, 2017
More than 200 Soldiers from around the country arrived at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, Oct. 20 to train and compete for the coveted Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) at an event hosted by the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). For more the 70 years, the EIB has served as a means to recognize Soldiers who have mastered the professionalism and proficiency of infantryman skills.
"I feel that every infantryman should take advantage of the opportunity to earn the Expert Infantryman Badge," said Sgt. Maj. Paul Riedel, operations sergeant major with The Old Guard (TOG). "This is the chance to prove to yourself and the world that you are an expert in your field."
In order to earn the EIB, each candidate is evaluated on the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), day and night land navigation, and 30 tasks comprising three lanes - weapons lane, medical lane and patrol lane.
In addition, participants must complete a 12-mile foot march wearing a 35-pound ruck sack and complete the Objective Bull.
Objective Bull consists of a series of medical tasks that must be completed to standard.
"These are tasks that every infantryman knows how to do," said Staff Sgt. Mark Mehaffie, noncommissioned officer in charge of the EIB event with TOG. "But, to be able to do it with precision and 100 percent accuracy the first time, every time, is what this badge of honor represents. It is important to recognize these Soldiers' excellence."
Prior to being evaluated, candidates participated in an extensive 10-day training exercise, led by cadre. Each cadre have earned the EIB and were further evaluated by officials from the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence (USAMCE), who sanctioned the EIB event, said Riedel.
During the training, all eligible infantrymen were provided the opportunity to conduct multiple iterations on the EIB lane tasks and work with cadre, as well as peers, to prepare for evaluation.
"The goal is to help prepare the candidates to succeed," said Mehaffie. "No one will be given a free ride, but until the first day of testing every cadre out here with a blue badge already on their chest will dedicate every minute of their time to ensuring the candidates are prepared to compete."
The extra training was valued by some of the Soldiers.
"I think this EIB was ran very professionally," said Staff Sgt. Garrett Golden, a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. "There was more training toward each task compared to other units' EIBs and I think that helped a lot."
Soldiers began the rigorous five-day EIB evaluation with an APFT Oct. 30.
"The APFT is evaluated on a higher standard here," said Mehaffie. "The EIB APFT requires Soldiers to score 80 percent or higher in each event."
Approximately 41 percent of participants are eliminated after this event, according to USAMCE.
The second event of the day was land navigation, which was evaluated in two iterations, day and night. The event demonstrated the Soldiers' ability to navigate to a series of points using a map and compass. Soldiers were given only one opportunity to successfully complete each iteration.
"The land [navigation] course is going to be a challenging event due to the conditions that are out there on the course," said Mehaffie. "It's really wet out there on the course and the nights have had almost zero visibility, it is going to be difficult."
Participants were required to correctly locate and record at least three out of four identified points while carrying their weapon and wearing their individual combat equipment.
"The key to being successful is hands down attention to detail," said Mehaffie. "For instance with land [navigation], generally your no-goes aren't going to come from a Soldier not being able to find a point. It's going to come from their inability to plot a point accurately."
During the following three days of evaluation Soldiers were cycled through weapons, medical and patrol lanes.
If a candidate receives a no-go in an event, they have one hour to retrain on the task and will be retested. After receiving two no-goes in one event candidates are eliminated from EIB evaluation entirely. Candidates will also be eliminated after receiving three no-goes.
"A lot of the tasks on these lanes have to be performed in sequence," said Mehaffie. "Soldiers have to be able to compartmentalize all of their thoughts and focus on what is required for each individual task. That is the single most important part of EIB."
The culminating events, a 12-mile foot march and Objective Bull, stretched participants to their limits, both mentally and physically. Donned in their individual combat equipment and a 35-pound ruck sack, participants were required to complete the foot march in three hours or less.
Immediately following the 12-mile foot march, participants were given an additional 20 minutes to complete the Objective Bull. Each of the final events were not retestable.
"The 12-mile ruck march and the Objective Bull was definitely a challenge," said Antonio Garcia, a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. "Going through the terrain made it more difficult than I was expecting, but I just had to stay focused and push through it."
In the end, a total of 52 Soldiers successfully completed the demanding and exhausting evaluation to earn the EIB.
"This badge is earned not given," said Command Sgt. Maj. Paul E. Biggs, command sergeant major, Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington. "There were 236 of you that started and 52 of you remain. That is a 22 percent success rate, meaning this organization has exceeded the Army's average of 18 percent."
Successfully completing the evaluation was a pivotal and rewarding moment for Garcia and Golden.
"This means everything to me," said Garcia, after completing the final event. "This is my profession, knowing that I am an expert at what I do makes me very proud. Everything I have earned in my military career means a lot, but especially my EIB."
"I am a staff sergeant," said Golden. "It is absolutely necessary for me to earn my EIB for my [military occupational specialty]. It's a very proud day for me and my battle buddies out here today."
In closing, Biggs charged the 52 Soldiers with the responsibility of assisting their peers to earn the EIB in the future.
"My advice to any infantryman wanting to earn the EIB is, don't hesitate," said Garcia. "There is no better time than right now. Study and take the time to stay dedicated and focused on the goal. You can do it."
The U.S. Army Military District of Washington serves as the Army Forces Component and core staff element of Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region, which conducts operations that deter, prevent and respond to threats aimed at the National Capital Region. The U.S. Army Military District of Washington also conducts world-class ceremonial musical and special events in support of our nation's leadership.