On a rainy Monday morning, 57 U.S. Army Soldiers started a weeklong journey in pursuit of a special honor.
For only the second time, the Army Reserve hosted an event for candidates of the Expert Soldier Badge, held Aug. 14-18, 2023, at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Members of all three Army components (active duty, Army Reserve and National Guard) were invited to participate.
Earning this badge is no small feat. Soldiers must complete a variety of mental and physical challenges, and any slip up could mean going home.
Of the 57 candidates this year, only 16 remained at the end, standing tall as their shiny new badges were pinned to their uniform.
“I'm very happy,” said Spc. Dominic Chrisostomo, a member of the 1224th Engineer Company, part of the Guam National Guard, upon earning the badge. “I'm happy that I stayed in. I continued mission. I kept going and didn't let anything get me down, and I just kept moving forward.”
Throughout the week, these candidates had to complete tasks — 30 in total — related to weapon systems, medical and patrol knowledge. With only a single no-go allowed per day, the pressure was on.
Surprisingly, anticipation was one of the hardest parts of the event, according to Pfc. Tyson Clark, U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne).
“Especially when we're going through the lanes, the medical lanes, patrol lanes,” Clark said, “like trying to lay in bed at night, and you've got all these different tasks going through your head, and you can't sleep because you're stressed out.”
Clark was one of three Soldiers to earn the Straight Edge title, meaning he was perfect in every task.
“I guess I got lucky,” Clark said of the achievement. “I didn't mess up any of my tasks, but yeah, it was a wild ride.”
The ESB is open to all Soldiers (noncommissioned officers, warrant officers and officers) who are not serving in the infantry, special forces or medical branches and who demonstrate individual abilities to perform basic Soldier tasks.
Chrisostomo appreciated the chance to become reacquainted with those tasks after a couple years of focusing on his military occupational specialty.
“Being here, it kind of brings us back to pretty much our infantry side,” Chrisostomo said, “where we get tested upon this: patrols, the weapons, the medical. It brings back our level 10, and it ensures that we're still experts in our fields.”
More than just another decoration to wear on their uniforms, the badge represents the trials that candidates have overcome to show their expertise.
“It's a way to show other people the profession that we're in,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Proctor, 863rd Engineer Battalion commander. “When you're in any type of profession, you have to show other people what to aspire to. It's something that shows those who came before who's now and who's coming next.”
By earning this badge, Soldiers join an elite group and are then able to become graders at future events, passing on their knowledge and help to Soldiers.
When asked about coming back to help, Clark said he would be interested.
“I know it was very challenging for the graders, especially being here over a month,” Clark said, “even longer days than we had to endure. But I think it'd be a really cool experience to come back, train other Soldiers and help them experience the same thing and to also earn their badge.”
In addition to the tasks, Soldiers must also complete an Expert Physical Fitness Assessment, day and night land navigation, and a 12-mile ruck march. Failure to pass any of these requirements results in disqualification for the badge.
When asked if there was anything else to say, Proctor shared his appreciation for how the event was conducted.
“I think I did the math,” Proctor said, “and it was almost a one-to-one ratio of cadre and support staff to each one of us, if not more.”
Such individual attention is “a testament to what the U.S. Army is willing to put into the training that they did,” he continued, “and it's a testament of the Soldiers’ and staff's willingness to support our training. I wanted to say thank you to them.”