FORT IRWIN, Calif.-After five days of grueling challenges, 33 infantrymen stood before their peers, proudly wearing shiny blue badges on their chest. They stood proudly wearing the highly-coveted Expert Infantryman Badge.
More than 200 infantrymen from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment participated in the EIB testing, at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif. Sept. 20-24. The Soldiers were tested on their knowledge of the infantry skill set to earn the right to wear the EIB.
"(I am) very proud of all the Blackhorse Troopers who participated this week and especially proud of the 33 who earned the coveted EIB," said Brig. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams, Fort Irwin/NTC commanding general.
The testing event kicked off Monday morning with an Army Physical Fitness Test. In order to pass the EIB standards, Soldiers must score at least 75 percent in each event. Following the APFT, the Soldiers then conducted both a day and night land navigation course. To pass this event, the Soldiers had to find three of four points in both the day and night phases.
The next three days were then spent testing the infantrymen's tactical and technical proficiency. The Soldiers were pitted against three testing lanes, a Military Operations in Urban Terrain lane, a patrol lane and a tactical control point lane. Each lane consisted of ten tasks that infantrymen must accomplish correctly.
On their own, the tasks that the Soldiers face seem simple enough for an infantryman. However, the presence of time limits and the critical evaluation from graders added pressure for the Soldiers. The 30 tasks included bore-sighting, first aid, calling for fire support and weapons proficiency. The EIB candidates were allowed only two no-goes per each lane.
On the final day of testing, the candidates embarked on a road march through the NTC, the most physically daunting task of the week. The Soldiers had to finish the 12-mile march in under three hours.
"The 12-mile rod march had to be completed in under three hours, with a 35-lb ruck, weapon, LCE (load carrying equipment) and helmet," said Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Wilcox, the 11th ACR regimental command sergeant major. "At the end of the march, they had a full layout, if they were missing anything from the packing list, they were disqualified."
As the sun crept above Tiefort Mountain, the candidates pushed on to the finish line, flanked and cheered on by other Soldiers.
"That road march was the hardest part," said Pvt. Brandyn Doerle, F Troop, 2nd Squadron, 11th ACR. "I was good on the testing and the lanes, I had really good training."
Doerle, a native of St. Louis, Mo., was the sole "true blue" EIB recipient out of 33 Soldiers. To be a true blue EIB holder, a Soldier must complete all tests without a single no-go. For the 22 year-old's efforts, he was awarded an Army Commendation Medal by Abrams. Additionally, he also received the regimental command sergeant major's personal EIB badge.
"I feel very honored to wear it and I appreciate it," Doerle said. "It feels great."
The EIB was originally issued during in 1943 during World War II. Only infantrymen and Special Forces Soldiers are allowed to wear the badge. For many infantrymen it is a rite of passage. While similar to the Combat Infantry Badge, the EIB holds a different meaning, Wilcox said.
Wilcox explained that while the CIB is awarded to a Soldier whose team was involved in combat, the EIB is more about his personal accomplishments.
"For an EIB, each candidate has to accomplish individual tasks to standard," Wilcox said. "It's not a group effort, it is an individual effort."
Wilcox said that each Soldier who passes or fails does so based on their individual strengths and weaknesses.
On the fifth day of the event, just a few hours after finishing the road march, the 33 infantrymen were standing in formation in front of their fellow Blackhorse Troopers and Family. Each Soldier stood proud and tall as the weeks and months of training finally paid off. They stood with their heads up as their leaders and mentors pinned on the badges to their uniforms.