2nd Lt. Adam Cain, a platoon leader with Company A, 31st Engineer Battalion, performs a functions check on the M2 .50 Caliber machine gun, while Sgt. 1st Class David Riojas, a platoon leader with Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, Fort Riley, Kansas, grades him during the weapons portion of Expert Soldier Badge testing June 7 at Fort Leonard Wood. More than 200 Soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood and installations as far away as Hawaii and Florida tested for their Expert Infantryman and Expert Soldier skill badges from June 6 to Friday here.
2nd Lt. Adam Cain, a platoon leader with Company A, 31st Engineer Battalion, performs a functions check on the M2 .50 Caliber machine gun, while Sgt. 1st Class David Riojas, a platoon leader with Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, Fort Riley, Kansas, grades him during the weapons portion of Expert Soldier Badge testing June 7 at Fort Leonard Wood. More than 200 Soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood and installations as far away as Hawaii and Florida tested for their Expert Infantryman and Expert Soldier skill badges from June 6 to Friday here. (Photo Credit: Photo by Amanda Sullivan, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — More than 200 Soldiers tested for either the Expert Infantryman or Expert Soldier skill badges June 6 to Friday here.

Throughout the week, about 160 Fort Leonard Wood candidates, along with Soldiers from Camp James E. Rudder, Florida; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, completed more than 30 tasks, demonstrating their individual knowledge and proficiency in a variety of critical Soldiering skills, including personal fitness, land navigation, weapons, first aid and patrolling in a tactical environment.

The testing concluded with an early morning 12-mile ruck march Friday, followed by an afternoon badging ceremony at Baker Theater. Eight out of 44 Soldiers to test were awarded their EIB, and 43 out of 171 were awarded their ESB. Awardees who completed all lanes on the first go received the Army Commendation Medal.

Except for some minor differences, the EIB and ESB tests are nearly identical, according to 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment Battalion Command Sgt. Maj., Matthew Reed, who served as this year’s Maneuver Support Center of Excellence EIB and ESB board president. This similarity, he said, was what made it possible to host both tests simultaneously. Over the course of two weeks, Reed’s team built up Training Area 247M to conduct this and any future EIB and ESB testing.

Reed said the process of bringing testing here began with MSCoE and Fort Leonard Wood Command Sgt. Maj. Randolph Delapena, who worked with other installations to provide EIB and ESB testing opportunities to Fort Leonard Wood Soldiers at their respective testing sites.

Now, Fort Leonard Wood is returning the favor, Reed said.

“I’ve taken the ball he brought to the field and started running with it with this testing,” Reed said. “We’ve reached back to installations who have provided us slots in the past; we paid them back and forged new relationships with other installations.”

For Soldiers stationed here — especially drill sergeants, who often work long hours with limited time off — bringing the opportunity to earn expert badges to their doorstep allows them to remain competitive with their peers, Reed said.

“We’ve worked hard as an organization to provide opportunities for drill sergeants,” he said. “To have this testing here at Fort Leonard Wood provides them all — not just the infantry drill sergeants, but all the drill sergeants — the chance to earn their badge.”

One drill sergeant who took advantage of the convenient location was Sgt. 1st Class David Dunn, a senior drill sergeant with Company A, 795th Military Police Battalion, who earned his ESB and said having it here gave more Soldiers the opportunity to test.

“(Previous opportunities) were limited because you had to go temporary duty and secure funding, so more of us were able to participate this time,” he said. “Having our own resources here also made it easier because we were able to use our own materials for train up.”

EIB

The EIB was initiated in 1944, by Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, as an award to recognize Army Infantryman, build and maintain esprit de corps within Army infantry units and add prestige to the job. Today, the coveted award plays a leading role in career progression for Infantry Soldiers.

“In its rawest terms, it’s almost a promotion requirement for infantry,” said Reed, who is an infantryman himself. “It’s not impossible to get promoted without it, but the most qualified infantrymen getting selected on a centralized selection board have an EIB.”

The Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning reported 80 percent of Infantryman selected for sergeant first class in 2017, and 95 percent of Infantryman selected for master sergeant in 2018, had an EIB.

Staff Sgt. Clayton Ryckman, a drill sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, was presented with his EIB on Friday. This was his second attempt at earning the badge — his first being in 2016, in Hawaii. The ability to train and test here was a factor in his decision to go for it again, he said.

“This was only the second time in 11 years that I have been able to do it, and as an Infantryman, it’s the badge you want,” he said. “It’s one of those things you need to progress in your career because it makes you stand out among your peers. It’s something I’ve wanted since the first time I tested for it and didn’t get it — I wanted to redeem myself.”

He encouraged other Infantry Soldiers to follow in his footsteps.

“As an Infantryman, if it’s here and you’re here, you should volunteer to go do it,” Ryckman said. “Worst case scenario, you don’t get it — it’s a badge not everyone gets — but it’s better to try and fail, than to not go for it at all. So, go out there and try to get it.”

ESB

Much newer than its Infantry counterpart, the ESB was first awarded in 2019. It is reserved for Soldiers whose military occupational specialties fall outside of the infantry, special forces or medical branches of the Army.

“For the longest time, the Infantry had a shiny blue badge, but there wasn’t a recognition for Soldiers across all military occupational skills,” Reed said. “They are just as skilled at their warrior tasks and drills as anyone else — now they can get recognition for it.”

At this time, the ESB isn’t as critical for promotion as the EIB, but Reed predicts it may be soon.

“It may not be there yet, but I can see the Army trending in a direction where ESB is equally important in centralized selection boards as the EIB is for Infantry,” he said.

For Staff Sgt. Ariana Sanchez, a Sapper Leader Course instructor with the 169th Engineer Battalion, who was awarded her ESB on her first attempt, earning the badge was a personal challenge to herself — but provided added benefits.

“I just wanted to test myself and see if I could do it,” she said. “I learned a lot that I don’t learn in regular units, especially to this standard.”

She said land navigation was her favorite part of the test because the terrain was unique and challenging. She had some advice for future candidates.

“Pay attention to the cadre and listen to what they’re telling you,” she said. “They won’t tell you the answers, but they’re going to guide you to be the best, so try to be the best. Don’t give up — keep going.”

Future testing

The next EIB and ESB testing at Fort Leonard Wood is scheduled for the end of October, and Delapena advised Soldiers who would like to go for it to start preparing now.

“I challenge them to find one of our new experts, or someone who already earned their expert badge, and inquire about it,” he said. “Begin a training path to become the next Army’s expert.”

For those with doubts about testing for their respective expert badge, Delapena said there is no ideal type of Soldier when it comes to earning these awards.

“Any Soldier, officer or non-commissioned officer is ideal,” he said. “At the end of the training, even if they do not pass, they are better, more lethal Soldiers, who will be able to accomplish any task.”

More photos from the EIB and ESB testing here are available on the Fort Leonard Wood Flickr page.