EIB/ESB/EFMB not just for the young

By Kemar NoelMay 3, 2024

Col. Michael Stewart, 434th Field Artillery commander, plots his waypoints and communications channels before setting off on the 12-Mile Ruck March for the final event of the Expert Infantryman Badge/Expert Soldier Badge at Fort Sill recently. Spoiler: He passed the test!
Col. Michael Stewart, 434th Field Artillery commander, plots his waypoints and communications channels before setting off on the 12-Mile Ruck March for the final event of the Expert Infantryman Badge/Expert Soldier Badge at Fort Sill recently. Spoiler: He passed the test! (Photo Credit: Edward Muniz) VIEW ORIGINAL

Those vying for the Expert Infantry Badge/Expert Soldier/Expert Field Medical Badges are usually young and in the best shape of their lives. It's rare to see a command team who...well...aren't that young and may carry a few extra pounds, even without the heavy ruck sack.

The rate at which Soldiers pass and are able to wear the coveted badge is notoriously low, so getting the badge itself is commendable.

Col. Michael Stewart, 434th Field Artillery Brigade commander and Command Sgt. Maj. Luis Arroyo-Avila, 434th FA command sergeant major took put their sore backs and aching knees where their mouths were and decided to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk and encouraging others to participate.

“I wanted to show an example and highlight the importance of what my Soldiers should strive towards,” said Stewart. “Our job here is to run basic training, so we spend most of our days trying to instill fundamental Soldiering skills in new Soldiers. We reiterate every day that the cadre needs to be masters at what they do, and over time you realize that if you are trying to get someone to do something, you should be willing to do it yourself.”

Compared to other training regimens, getting ready for the EIB/ESB competition was tougher than normal physical training, according to Stewart. The training leading up to the competition is physically and mentally challenging and is said to be some of the hardest training some Soldiers have been put through in their career.

“The training itself was hard, but it was harder for me because this isn’t the sort of training senior officers would typically do,” Stewart said. “It was fun overall but, it was very challenging and it didn’t make it any better that I didn’t have much practice.”

There are a series of Soldiering related events and training lanes Soldiers must pass throughout the competition. One stop might see them stripping down and putting back together various weapons a Soldier should be proficient with. Another day may have the physical training test and qualifying on the rifle ranges. All three days are filled with mini-competitions within the overall event.

Stewart said the badge itself isn’t something most people could even attempt to attain without a certain mental fortitude and a clear goal in mind for what they want to accomplish.

“Taking it one task at a time is key. Every time you attempt a task you should not be afraid to fail and try again because you'll be ok. It takes patience but eventually, after time and effort, you will be a professional, before you know it,” Arroyo-Avila said.

Receiving the badge, especially with a the low success rate, is something the competitors can be proud of after weeks of hard training, and then completing the tasks set before them.

“Receiving the badge wasn’t something that I had planned originally. I had planned to do the training, but after learning so much from this phenomenal program,  that, may I say, has been some of the best training I've had in the past 26 years I've had in the Army made it even more worthwhile," Stewart said.

The training each Soldier undertakes leading p to the competition usually takes several weeks to complete. Even though it is tough, both men say it is very rewarding when it’s over.

“Every day was an exciting day and there wasn’t a day I didn’t come into work without a big smile but, it wasn’t complete until I felt complete. After testing my mental and physical toughness for weeks I had to make sure I still had it in me. So, when I finally finished, it felt surreal,” Arroyo-Avila said.

The EIB/ESB/EFMB trains Soldiers to focus on basics to a higher standard than what is usually trained and helps them build overall team cohesion, according to Stewart, who summed up the whole experience as “just phenomenal.”