FORT HOOD, Texas- A lot of longtime Soldiers will tell you that earning military badges isn't what it used to be; that things have gotten easier or that instructors give you more slack. While this might be the case for some, for infantrymen hoping to earn their Expert Infantryman Badge, it's quite the opposite.

Over 270 Soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, and a select few from other brigades, participated in a new style of EIB testing implemented in 2009 that tests Soldiers on basic tasks during a week-long test in mid-June.

According to Sgt. 1st Class Blaine Dowell, a Killeen, Texas, native and an operations sergeant with 2nd BCT, EIB testing was once done in a station format, where tasks and associated equipment were clearly laid out. Now, Soldiers go through lanes that simulate combat missions and perform tasks like operating radios, treating wounded or throwing grenades as part of that mission.

The EIB testing takes place over the course of one week, with Soldiers taking a physical training test and completing two land navigation courses on the first day. The following three days, Soldiers are tested on lanes that simulate a combat patrol, an urban environment and a military checkpoint.

On the final day, Soldiers must complete a grueling 12-mile march in full gear and with 35 additional pounds of weight in less than three hours. On 18 June, only 40 Soldiers met the requirements to be awarded the EIB out of the 273 who started.

This type of testing is designed to put Soldiers in a realistic scenario and see how successfully they can integrate their training into a life-like scenario, explained Dowell.

"This is definitely a more combat-focused style of testing than the old way," said Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Whittington, a Corrigan, Texas, native and the combat patrol lane non-commissioned officer in-charge. "This is more catered to the type of missions we do now. It's pretty challenging."

With the deployment rotation continuing at a high tempo, this is the first chance that 2nd BCT infantrymen have had to test for their EIBs in nearly seven years.

"We've been so focused on wars that the number of EIBs has dwindled in the Army [as a whole]," said Whittington. "It's good to see all these guys coming out now."

"The EIB is something that younger infantrymen expect to see in their leadership," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Moody, a Pell City, Ala. native who was taking part in the testing. "There is a certain amount of respect that comes with having one."

"As an infantryman, how can you be a leader without being an expert at your job," said Spc. Marquitos Tamayo, a Copperas Cove, Texas, native and EIB participant. "Having an EIB shows others that you are an expert."

Although the event was challenging, the Soldiers weren't surprised with tasks they hadn't seen before.

"All the tasks out here are common Soldier tasks," explained Dowell.

"These tasks aren't just for infantrymen," said Dowell. "These are tasks I would want any Soldier going into combat to know."

"This is fun, and it's good training," said Tomayo. "This is the kind of thing that I joined the infantry to do."

Tamayo was also happy with the fact that the EIB focused on an individual Soldiers skills rather than a team.

"No one can fail you but you," he said.

The Soldiers who successfully completed all aspects of the EIB testing were awarded the coveted badge during an early morning ceremony, June 18, on Fort Hood. Soldiers who earned the badge are now entitled to wear it on their ACUs and dress uniforms.

As the U.S. Army's mission abroad has continued to evolve and change, so, too, has the EIB testing; the select few who earn it have proven that their individual skills truly set them apart from their peers as expert infantrymen.