FORT STEWART, Ga. – Three hundred and sixty-eight Soldiers put their skills to the test so they could try to earn the Expert Infantry Badge or Expert Soldier Badge from August 2-20, 2021, at Fort Stewart. Despite the increasing prevalence of the COVID-19 Delta variant at Fort Stewart and in the local community, every effort was made to protect the force by following and adhering to the outlined mitigation measures while fighting to keep the training. Safety precautions were paramount to this endeavor, from limiting guests to essential personnel at the training stations, sanitizing each station and enforcing a strict mask requirement.
“Every day during the EIB and ESB train-up, we fought to challenge our Soldiers and to train safely in the face of a rising number of cases on Fort Stewart,” said Col. Terry R. Tillis, commander of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, “Spartan Brigade,” 3rd Infantry Division. “Soldiers from the rank of private to major from Fort Myers, Fort Jackson, Fort Benning and fellow Fort Stewart units in addition to our own worked hard to earn their badge and set the standard for those they lead.”
The badges are symbols of expertise that Soldiers earn by completing events that test their physical fitness, land navigation skills, patrol knowledge, tactical medical skills and weapons proficiency.
“For infantry, it’s to test proficiency and expertise in their MOS, or military occupational specialty, and for the Expert Soldier Badge, it’s to test Soldiers in any MOS to prove expertise in their skill level tasks,” said Sgt. 1st Class Dion Parker, an EIB holder assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID.
The testing was organized, validated and graded by 2nd ABCT Soldiers across the brigade’s unit area on Fort Stewart.
Candidates completed two weeks of training to prepare themselves for testing week. The graders explained the tasks, conditions and standards of each event, and then they identified any mistakes and retrained the candidates as necessary during the training weeks.
“You have to prepare physically and mentally, and you have to get your hands on weapons and equipment to become proficient at those tasks,” said Parker.
On the first day of testing, ESB candidates took the Army Physical Fitness Test and the EIB candidates took the EIB Physical Fitness Assessment. If they passed, then they moved to the day and night land navigation course. The following three days consisted of 30 total skill lanes – 10 weapons, 10 patrol and 10 medical.
“This is challenging for Soldiers because the stress of accomplishing tasks perfectly is something Soldiers aren’t used to,” said Sgt. Maj. Scott S. McClellan, the battalion operations senior enlisted advisor for the 3rd Bn., 15th IR, 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID, and the board member for the EIB/ESB testing committee that led the day-to-day operations of the event.
On the final day, the remaining candidates completed a 12-mile ruck march in under three hours, then disassembled and reassembled their weapon and performed a function check on it in under five minutes. After five days of completing tasks in the rain and in hot, humid weather, 17 candidates successfully earned their EIB and 11 earned their ESB.
“I feel excited to represent today by getting my ESB from putting in the hard work,” said 2nd Lt. Brandon Jones, an ESB graduate assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID.
Spc. Jan Mudrik, an EIB graduate assigned to 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, said it was rough because there was a lot to memorize while in harsh weather conditions, but he felt ecstatic.
Three ESB graduates were distinguished as “Perfect Edge” for completing all the challenges without a single “No-Go,” and six EIB graduates were distinguished as “True Blue” for the same accomplishment.
All these new experts can now be graders and take their skills back to their units to produce more EIB and ESB holders.
“Due to our COVID-mitigation measures, none of the participating Soldiers contracted the virus, and only two graders had to be sent home for possible symptoms,” said McClellan. “EIB and ESB not only make better Soldiers, but they also provide experts in the field to train the rest of the force to standard on these critical tasks, so I’m glad we found a way to conduct and complete the training safely.”