Panther Soldier perseveres to excellence
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Staff Sgt. John Pennington, assigned to the “Panther Battalion,” 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, poses with Pfc. Santos Vilchis after they both pinned the Expert Infantry Badge at Cottrell Field, Fort Stewart, Georgia, Nov. 10, 2021. The Army strives to provide opportunities to all Soldiers to thrive in their careers and build successful lives in the Army because advancing diversity in our leadership makes our Army stronger. (Courtesy Photo) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL
Panther Soldier perseveres to excellence
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Staff Sgt. John Pennington, left, assigned to the “Panther Battalion,” 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, poses with his father, John Sander Pennington, right, after pinning the Expert Infantry Badge at Cottrell Field, Fort Stewart, Georgia, Nov. 10, 2021. The Army strives to provide opportunities to all Soldiers to thrive in their careers and build successful lives in the Army because advancing diversity in our leadership makes our Army stronger. (Courtesy Photo) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT STEWART, Ga. – The U.S. Army Expert Infantryman Badge is considered one of the most coveted and prestigious skills badges for infantry Soldiers. To earn the badge, Soldiers must take a physical fitness test, pass day and night land navigation, complete three lanes with 10 tasks each without failing more than two tasks total, conduct a 12 mile road march in under three hours and complete a final mystery task. The three lanes revolve around Warrior Tasks Skill Level 1 and infantry-specific tasks related to weapons, medical and patrolling. For Staff Sgt. John Pennington, assigned to the “Panther Battalion,” 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, obtaining the EIB was an unsuspecting obstacle that he was determined to surmount. His drive to persevere in the face of adversity is bound tightly through his upbringing.

Pennington’s drive initially came from his father, John Sanders Pennington, an Army veteran of 23 years, who instilled discipline, personal responsibility and the drive to further oneself into his son.

“My dad would push me and taught me discipline; he taught me when I had to man up, hold myself accountable and, basically, gave me some tough love while raising me,” said Pennington. “If I ever had any questions though and if he didn’t know the answer, he would find the answers, [and] come back to me with it and that kind of helped shape me into the man I am now.”

While Pennington was not a fan of academics growing up, he still strived to further his education at his father’s urging. However, in 2015, he joined the Army after his first child was born to help support his new family. Pennington then enlisted in the infantry branch against his father’s advice to pick a different branch and embraced the opportunity to push himself.

“It [basic training] was a game to me really. I loved it, seeing who would crack first,” he joked.

Shortly after arriving at his first duty station at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Pennington was ready for his next challenge – U.S. Army Ranger School. During his first attempt at Ranger School, the challenge was too much, but he was determined to get his tab before promoting to sergeant. After a nine-month deployment, Pennington was promoted to corporal and immediately attended the Basic Leadership Course, which followed with another chance to earn his tab.

“I felt like to be a noncommissioned officer, you needed a Ranger tab so that people know that you are the best and that they can trust you,” Pennington said. “And to me, that separates you from other leaders.”

Pennington’s next goal was earning the EIB. During his time at Fort Bragg, he attempted to earn his badge four times but was undeterred from his goal. After arriving at Fort Stewart on June 21, 2021, and integrating into his unit, he got another chance to earn the badge.

Six Soldiers from Pennington’s company requested to do the train-up with him. However, by the end of test week, only Pfc. Santos Vilchis remained. “As long as you don’t quit, we’ll train an hour before each lane,” Pennington told Vilchis. “He never quit on me, and I never quit on him.” Finally, on his fifth attempt, Pennington, together with Vilchis, earned the EIB on Nov. 10, 2021.

Pennington noted that the EIB ceremony was special because “my dad … [was finally able to pin] one of my badges and then seeing Pfc. Vilchis get his.”

“Staff Sgt. Pennington’s engaged leadership, enforcement of the standard, perseverance and commitment to his Soldiers makes him a valuable member of the team," said Pennington's commanding officer, Capt. Anthony R. Buske, commander of Charlie Company, 2nd Bn., 69th AR, 2nd ABCT.

Pennington said there are other things he would like to do such as earn the Sapper tab and attend Special Forces Selection, but earning the EIB after initial failure was a major confidence booster moving forward.

“It [earning the EIB] makes me think I can do more things and that the only way I can go is up from here,” emphasized Pennington. “[And to] keep pressing to be one percent better than yesterday and to pass on what I’ve learned to other Soldiers so that they can learn and can do better.”