FORT SILL, Okla. -- To listen to Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Julius Moore liken a Soldier competing for the Expert Infantry Badge to an Olympic athlete gives an idea of the significance Soldiers place on this special award.

Friday, seven drill sergeants crossed the finish line of a 12-mile road march within the allotted time, the last test that would earn them this much sought after achievement. When they did, the handshakes, hugs and smiles were those of relief combined with the satisfaction of proving themselves equal to the task.

Master Sgt. Randy Norris, 434th Field Artillery operations sergeant major, headed up the testing and assembled a team of four EIB holders to serve as graders accompanying Soldiers through the tests verifying they met the standards.

"The four graders were picked for their professionalism and expertise in their MOS, and they did an outstanding job over the last 10 days," said Norris. "They helped the candidates get back and hone their basic Army skills."

Norris added the EIB means a lot to these Soldiers as it will help them move along in the ranks throughout their careers.

"Wearing the EIB means that Soldier is a professional and the one younger Soldiers look at and want to become," said Moore from B Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery. Moore proudly displays his EIB even as he grades those seeking to meet the standard and join the EIB club.

The Soldiers' EIB quest began with a week of training and rehearsal giving them time to understand what exactly would be expected of them.

Testing commenced week two and consisted of a physical fitness test, day and night land navigation exercises, the 12-mile road march and three in-depth scenarios each with 10 tasks Soldiers would have to successfully complete. The three scenarios were an urban, a patrol and a traffic control point situations.

Unlike in year's past where they would be expected to complete these scenarios in a precise sequence of steps, EIB changed to outcome based training last year. Moore said Soldiers get a little more leeway to successfully complete a scenario, because in combat Soldiers will do things differently than perhaps a textbook may suggest. Regardless, they will press on and complete the mission, and that's the important outcome.

"Most of these Soldiers have been in these situations and know how to call in close air support, treat wounded battle buddies or functions test a weapon," said 1st Sgt. Paul Brightwell, C Company, 434th FA Det. "The challenge will be taking in all the variables of each situation in a scenario and deciding on what to do first."

Moore said during the training week all tasks Soldiers see are related to the combat environment with the idea of building muscle memory through repetition.

"Although they won't know exactly what they might encounter, once they are put in a similar situation, they won't have to think, just react to what they see," he said.

EIB candidates completed the traffic control point scenario April 7. Graders verified proper execution of 10 tasks starting with precombat checks and inspections. Each Soldier gathered the gear needed for the mission, checking a radio ensuring they had spare batteries, a GPS, M-4 rifle and 9 mm pistol. Once everything was stowed, the grader and Soldier trotted to the second situation a firing position. Soldiers were briefed two comrades were wounded setting up a 50-caliber machine gun, but enemy combatants had disengaged. Moving in, the EIB candidate treated the most serious casualty first, then treated the second and finally did a functions test on the weapon.

When Drill Sergeant (Sgt.) James Peters completed his scenario, he was initially docked a no-go for failing to follow proper sequence for checking the machine gun. Despite this, he ultimately correctly function tested the weapon. Peters later brought this to the attention of the graders that the book differed with the outcome based training they had received. Realizing this, his record was returned to its former unblemished "true blue all the way through" appearance.

"I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, but it seemed like such an easy fix that I got the job done despite the sequence issue," said Peters, 1st Battalion, 414th Infantry Regiment. "It was important to me, because I like to be the best at what I do and complete whatever task I face to the best of my ability."

The final scenario called for Soldiers to man a traffic control point, in this case a blockhouse with an M240 machine gun. Again they function tested the weapon, then filled out a range card with a compass determining fields of fire and target reference points. Using their GPS, each Soldier determined his location and called in close air support providing azimuth and approximate distance from his recorded position.

"The range card is important because if a Soldier has to leave that location, someone relieving him only has to look at the range card to know exactly what they are facing in their field of fire," said Moore.

Friday the Soldiers lined up at 5:30 a.m. to start their 12-mile road marches. Festooned with full gear, they had three hours to complete the march. Halfway through the seven remained quite close to each other, something Moore said speaks to the nature of how the training is accomplished.

"This is an individual test, but there is teamwork involved in getting each member prepared and ready to complete each task successfully," he said. "These Soldiers have become a band of brothers. They've trained together, watched and critiqued each other and rooted for each other every step of the way."

That family aspect became evident at the finish line. As each weary Soldier crossed in the allotted time, graders and other EIB NCOs congratulated their newest members to the elite group. Still, judging by the broad smiles and sighs of relief, the best handshakes came from those brothers who endured the test and achieved the honor together.