JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - "I was so nervous in the morning," said 2nd Lt. Elena Chavez, shaking her head. "You train for an entire month, so you don't want to mess it up in the final hours."
Chavez, an infantry officer from Kansas City, Missouri, assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, had spent the last four weeks training and testing for her Expert Infantryman Badge.
Now, as she approached the morning's final two events for 2-2's EIB testing, it wasn't just her badge on the line - it was also her perfect score and coveted status as "True Blue."
"It really had to be right on - everything had to be perfect, the stars had to align," Chavez said. "It's the small things that get people on the lanes."
During the three weeks of train-up, her squad was one of the first out on the lanes and last to leave, drilling through the rain and cold to ensure they had each task down.
It was through working as a squad that Chavez had come so far, a fact she kept in mind going into the final 12-mile road march and weapons disassembly and functions check.
"We're Buffaloes - we're a herd and we keep each other accountable," she said. "I got out there and saw my guys and it was just like any other day when we were training. I lost all my nerves, gained my composure, and it was just another day."
All those days of training certainly paid off, as Chavez soared through the morning's final events, earning her EIB and an Army Commendation Medal for clearing all 34 EIB events with a perfect score and achieving "True Blue" status.
Of the 151 infantry Soldiers earning their EIB, only 59 were designated as a "True Blue." Chavez was one of two female infantry Soldiers to earn the coveted status, along with 1-17 Inf. Reg.'s 2nd Lt. Natalie Bulick-Sullivan.
Sgt. Tracker Sines, Chavez's squad leader, knew that getting out on the lanes and drilling together would prove instrumental for his young team's success during testing week.
"I wanted them to train as much as possible, but not burn themselves out," Sines said. "It's as simple as going back, going over it again and again. Having your peers watch you, having (your squad leader) watch you, training each other, walking somebody else through the task and reinforcing what you know - that's a big thing."
Sines felt confident that Chavez was "True Blue" material after watching her in the weeks leading up to testing.
"She doesn't waste her time out here," he said. "She has her own system of talking herself through it. Whatever she needs to do to help learn it."
2nd Lt. Benjamin Hinkle, Chavez's squad mate who also earned his EIB, agreed.
"She's definitely been the workhorse of the group," Hinkle said. "She arrived straight after NTC, was assigned a platoon, and then came straight here for her EIB."
Chavez said now that the EIB is done, she looks forward to getting back to her platoon and getting to know them better.
"I've learned so much by training and participating, and can take it all back to my Soldiers," she said.
It might be a bit before she gets the chance, though.
"I'll be leaving on Wednesday for Yakima Training Center," she said, shaking her head and laughing. "I'm really going to try to enjoy this weekend."