"Not only do we forge Soldiers at Fort Jackson, we forge experts," said Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson, post commander, March 23 as he lauded the efforts of a group of infantrymen for earning the title of tops in their military occupational specialties.

For the 48 Soldiers left standing after a grueling week of their infantry skills being tested having the Expert Infantryman Badge pinned to their chests in ceremony at the NCO Club on post was once-in-a-lifetime special.

"It feels awesome" to earn the medal, said Pfc. Marco Salas, an infantryman with the 17th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Irwin, California. "I gave it all that I had and left it all there."

Salas was one of many Soldiers from outside Fort Jackson who came to the installation to compete for the coveted skill badge.

"It's a great feeling. Wow," said Staff Sgt. Corey Irwin, Fort Jackson's 2017 Drill Sergeant of the Year. "Out of 9 years in the Army, I've only had the opportunity twice" to test for the EIB. "I put my heart and soul into it -- true blue all the way."

Irwin was one of 15 Soldiers to earn the title of "true blue" by passing every phase of the competition without receiving a single "no-go." Soldiers are allowed to mess up once at a station and be retested. They are disqualified if they fail the retest, or have "no-gos" at three stations. If they don't pass the Army Physical Fitness Test by scoring at least 80 points per event, fail to qualify with their assigned weapon or finish the ruck march under a certain time they were also disqualified.

Candidates were tested on their physical prowess, weapons skills, basic infantry tasks, and finally a 12-kilometer ruck march culminating with dragging a "wounded" Soldier across Objective Bull before earning the EIB. The medal is also referred to as the "calling card" for a tough and thankless job on the battlefield.

The EIB was the brainchild of Army Chief of Staff. George C. Marshall in 1944 to recognize the expertise of infantrymen. Lt. Gen. Leslie J. McNair, commander of Army Ground Forces, presided over and awarded the first EIB's to a group of 10 infantrymen from the 100th Infantry Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

For some clearing the competition's final objective was elating and euphoric.

"It's hard to explain" how I felt when seeing the end, Salas said. "It motivated me a lot more. I just ran as hard as I could through the finish."

For Irwin, seeing the end made him thankful for those who supported him.

"At that point, the only thing I could think of was I did it," he said. "Everyone I knew, who knew I could do it … I made them proud. It's a great feeling."