FORT POLK, La. – Two female Soldiers, out of 13 finalists, were awarded the expert soldier badge at a ceremony held at Honor Field on Fort Polk, Louisiana, March 27.
1st Lt. Hannah Whitney, a platoon leader assigned to Alpha Troop, 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and Sgt. 1st Class Adriana Fox, a senior religious affairs noncommissioned officer assigned as an observer/coach/trainer for the Brigade Command and Control Task Force, Operations Group, Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk.
Expert soldier badge training and testing, hosted by 3rd Brigade Combat Team, was held concurrently with expert infantry badge training and testing. Close to 1,000 Soldiers began the training phase on March 9 for both EIB and ESB. Only 484 EIB candidates and 41 ESB candidates were able to advance to the testing phase for the badges.
Out of those 41 candidates, six of them were women.
When Fox first heard about the opportunity to earn the ESB on Fort Polk, she jumped at the chance to attend the training.
“As a sergeant first class, I never thought I would be able to get this experience,” Fox said. “We were in our January rotation when we heard that 3rd Brigade postponed EIB so they could conduct ESB at the same time. We had to coordinate with our task force to make sure we would be able to complete the training during JRTC rotation training.”
At the beginning of the training, Soldiers are given a diagnostic army physical fitness test. They must score at least an 80 percent for their age and gender to advance to the next training event, land navigation.
The land navigation event is broken down into two tasks: day and night land navigation. For both tasks, candidates have three hours to correctly locate three out of four points using a compass, 1:50,000 scale map and protractor.
The rest of the events include patrol, medical and weapons lanes in which Soldiers are only permitted to receive one “no-go” for all of the events, to include land navigation.
The testing phase was conducted the same way, but with more constraints due to COVID-19 precautionary measures. Instructors and Soldiers had to make sure they were practicing proper hygiene, and they had to be mindful of social distancing requirements. Shared training equipment was wiped down in-between uses.
Despite the extra obstacles, Whitney and Fox remained diligent in their efforts to obtain the badge.
Training outside of the established training schedule is key to being successful during expert soldier badge testing, said Whitney.
“Once I got the book, I started studying,” Whitney said. “Anytime I had free time, I would open the book. There were a lot of things I was already familiar with from prior training, but somethings I needed help with.”
Although Soldiers must complete each task individually, for both Whitney and Fox, ESB felt more like a team event.
Whitney said being able to draw weapons at her troop and having her Soldiers help her train on the different weapon systems allowed her to be successful during the weapons lane.
For Fox, it was the instructors who had the biggest impact. The task she struggled with the most was the hand grenade.
“It’s one of those skills we don’t use often, so I had to reach deep in order to keep on going,” Fox said. “The instructors took the time to break down the sequences and performance tasks to help us understand why it’s done the way they are teaching us. All of the instructors were amazing!”
Testing to receive the expert soldier badge does stop until candidates complete the 12-mile forced ruck march event within three hours or less. Candidates must carry a rucksack weighing 35 lbs. After crossing the finish line, Soldiers must complete the final task of clearing, disassembling, assembling, and performing a functions check on their M4 carbine rifle.
“I wish I would have prepared more for the ruck march,” Whitney said. “It was very challenging. I had never done a ruck march for 12 miles. With all of the gravel and sand, it was really hard. A few times I wanted to quit.”
Keeping with the teamwork mentality, Whitney attributed her success during the ruck march to three other officers and one NCO from her troop.
“I was with them a majority of the time,” said Whitney. “There was no way I would have finished by myself. It was definitely a team effort.”
“The ruck march really showed how passionate we all are to be here,” Fox said. “Between the temperature and the humidity, after the first half-mile, I think we all realized this is what we want to do.”
When the ruck march began, the temperature was 71 degrees with 87 percent humidity.
At a time when it seems like women in the Army are beginning monitored more closely than in the past, Fox said she hopes she inspires not only females but everyone to try and earn the coveted badge.
Fox is the first religious affairs specialist to earn the expert soldier badge.
Whitney, in agreeance with Fox, said that anyone who is able should try out for the badge.
“There was no biasness,” said Whitney. “It was all an even playing field. This was some of the best training I have received in a very long time.
Due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements, family and friends were not allowed to attend the ceremony. The ceremony was live-streamed on Facebook.