EIB testing brings Florida infantrymen ‘back to the basics’

By Pfc. Lindsey E. Jones and Sgt. 1st Class Blair Heusdens
107th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

CAMP BLANDING, Fla.(July 29, 2011) " Recently, 99 Soldiers from the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team set out on a journey many infantrymen take and few complete with success. For the first time in more than 20 years, the Florida National Guard conducted testing for the Expert Infantryman Badge, a coveted award and symbol of tradition for U.S. Soldiers who accept the difficult and sometimes thankless job of infantrymen.

As the sun rose July 22 and the Soldiers finished a 12-mile road march " the last in a week’s worth of grueling tasks " 17 men stood proud, having completed all of the requirements to receive the badge.

“Today these 17 soldiers in front of me earned this coveted badge,” Col. Thad Hill, the Brigade Commander, said during the award ceremony. “Like those before you and those who graded your efforts, you have risen to the challenge of upholding an enduring legacy and lineage of professionalism within our field of infantry. To be a holder of the EIB stands out as a mark of excellence.”

The decision to conduct the EIB testing this year was an effort by the Brigade leadership to bring the training focus back to basic infantry skills. The Brigade recently returned from a year-long deployment to Kuwait and is in the reset year of the ARFORGEN cycle where the focus is on individual Soldiers and individual training.

“After we got back from deployment, we realized that we needed to hone our infantryman skills,” said Hill. “I call it going back to the fundamentals " knowing your lane, knowing specific MOS responsibilities. It was a perfect opportunity for us to look at using the EIB testing as a way to hone back in on the core competencies of the infantrymen that make up the brigade.”

The EIB testing combined several training events into one week. Prior to the start of the testing period, Soldiers were required to qualify expert with their M4 assault rifles. On day one, the infantrymen took the Army Physical Fitness Test, and were required to pass the push-ups, sit-ups and the two mile run with at least 75 points in each event.

The Soldiers were also tested on their land navigation skills; both during the day and at night. Each participant had two hours to find three of the four points on the course.

On days two through four, the Soldiers rotated through one of three testing lanes; the patrol lane, the urban operations lane and the traffic control point lane. On each of the lanes they faced ten tasks, presented in a manner they would see in a combat environment, and one decision task. The Guardsman had twenty minutes to complete the lane and complete eight out of ten tasks correctly.

On each of the three lanes they were required to load and clear one of three weapons systems; the M4 assault rifle, the M240B machine gun or the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, as well as fix any malfunctions.

The testing ended with a 12-mile road march; the Soldiers had three hours to complete the march while carrying their M4, a 35-pound rucksack, water, Kevlar and load bearing equipment.

According to Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Corrow, the Brigade Command Sergeant Major, on average only ten percent of infantrymen tested will receive the EIB, making it the most coveted award an infantryman can receive.

“Most folks who wear the EIB have probably made two or three attempts at getting it,” said Col. Sean Ward, the Deputy Brigade Commander. “It’s a challenge. Not everybody gets it; not everybody can get it.”

Ward attributes several reasons to the difficulty of obtaining the badge, “the hands-on technical expertise you must display, the physical challenges and the mental stresses that go along with it and the tough processes of trying to keep everything together.”

The testing was kept to the same standards as the active duty Army and all of the training lanes were validated by officials from Fort Benning, Ga. Maintaining a high standard of testing is what makes the EIB such a high honor for those who are able to earn it.

“You want to make sure that when they earn the badge, they feel like they’ve really earned something and you also want the other people who didn’t earn it to be envious of what someone else achieved,” said Lt. Col. David Yaegers, the Brigade Executive Officer. “It’s not much of an achievement if the standards are low and it’s an easy task to do.”

Each of the 40 graders, as well as those on the EIB board, must have already earned their EIBs. Because it has been so long since the Florida National Guard has done any testing, qualified Soldiers from the state’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion stepped in to help fill the void. The graders and the board played an important role in upholding a high standard throughout the testing.

“I want to thank the badge protectors for their role in this process. It is they who link the heritage of our past to the experience of today,” said Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw, the Adjutant General of Florida.

The leadership of the 53rd IBCT plans to continue to offer EIB testing as a way of motivating and training their Soldiers to strive to be the best. Because the Brigade was recently deployed, many of the 53rd Soldiers were not required to attend annual training this year and there are still many Soldiers who would like to test for the badge.

“The EIB tests the roots and basics of what it means to be an infantry Soldier, and we are coming back to those roots,” said Corrow. “To earn the EIB is the symbol of infantry excellence.”