By Franklin Fisher (Benning)October 22, 2019
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- When about two-and-a-half years ago his first sergeant needed two volunteers, Staff Sgt. Bradley A. Sherman raised his hand straight off.
He didn't know at that moment it would lead to his becoming one of a small group of Soldiers to be the first recipients of the Army's new Expert Soldier Badge, and the only one in that group who was an Army musician.
The ESB is a proficiency badge that the Army unveiled this June to recognize the lethality of Soldiers who serve outside the Infantry. It measures mastery of physical fitness, marksmanship, land navigation and other key soldiering skills. It's equivalent to the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB), for Infantry Soldiers, and the Expert Field Medical Badge (EFMB), for those in the medical field. Those in the Infantry, Special Forces and Medical career management fields are not eligible for the ESB.
Sherman, 35, of Clayton, Ohio, is a trumpeter assigned to the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence Band, here at Fort Benning. But at the time his hand went up in 2017 he was part of the 25th Infantry Division Band at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Having gotten his two volunteers, the first sergeant told them what they'd volunteered for.
"'Okay,'" the first sergeant said, "'so what you just volunteered for was trying to go for this Expert Soldier Badge,'" Sherman recalled.
As part of a pilot project, the first sergeant explained, the Army wanted to pull together a group of volunteers and run them through a demanding two-week qualification course for the ESB. Based on the results the Army would decide whether to make the ESB a new, official proficiency badge.
"Let's do it," Sherman said.
He threw himself into an intense period of preparation that included doubling down on fitness workouts and plunging into the fine points of marksmanship, map-and-compass and other Soldier skills.
"I wanted to make sure that I wasn't a failure," said Sherman. "I wanted to make sure that I was going to go there and I was earning the badge. No matter what, I was going to complete the course."
At Schofield Barracks he got lots of support from his band team leader, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Kurka, who took him to land navigation ranges and helped him hone his skills with map and compass. A battalion armorer helped him increase his familiarity with some of the weapons he'd have to be proficient in to qualify for the ESB.
To be sure he could hack the course physically, Sherman set himself a goal: be able to knock out the Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT, with time to spare. The test, which has since been replaced by a new Army fitness test, the ACFT, consisted of pushups, situps and a 2-mile run.
"It was just working out a lot," he said. "Making sure that I wasn't going to come close or fail the APFT that we had to do. I wanted to make sure I was able to do way more than what was required."
The first week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord was one of "train-up," said Sherman, with instructors working with the candidates on all the things they'd have to do without help in the second week. Getting something wrong got you a "no-go." Getting it right was a "go." Too many no-gos and a candidate was out of the course.
The days typically started "Army early," at 4 a.m. or 5, said Sherman.
After a long day of training he'd use nights to prepare for the next day. That included continued practice in handling weapons right, even without an actual weapon for practice.
"So the night before, going through the motions, I'd pretend I had the weapon in front of me, figuring out what I had to do with it, and just prepping for the ruck march the next morning."
By the time the two weeks had drawn to a close, of the 56 who had started, only 12 had met the requirements for an ESB.
Time passed and then this June, in conjunction with the Army's 244th birthday, the Army made it official: it was establishing a new proficiency badge, to be called the Expert Soldier Badge.
Then, several weeks ago, the Army emailed the badge-earners from the 2017 test class that they were to report to Washington, D.C. to have the badge presented during the Eisenhower Luncheon portion of the Annual Meeting and Exposition of the Association of the United States Army. One of the 12 had left the Army but the remaining 11 would receive their badges.
Band members were "incredibly proud" but not surprised when they heard the news, said Capt. Aaron Morris, the MCoE Band's commander.
"They know Sergeant Sherman's commitment and it was no surprise that he was being recognized in this way," Morris said.
Last week, at the Eisenhower Luncheon Oct. 15, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston presented each of the 11 with their badges and accompanying award certificates.
For Sherman, it wasn't until last week's ceremony that the full scope of things hit home.
"Just seeing the audience, seeing the company I was in," said Sherman. "I mean, all the rank. The sergeants major of all the major commands. Seeing them talk. Getting to hear the keynote speech from the Chief of Staff. That was incredible. And preceding that, getting the award and going, 'Yeah, I am part of the first in the Army. I am part of a change to the Army.'"