By Sgt. Breanne Pye (Fort Carson)October 6, 2011
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- About 70 Fort Carson Soldiers proved Sept. 26-30 that they have what it takes to earn the Army's prestigious Expert Infantryman Badge.
After months of preparation and five days of grueling challenges, 72 of the 492 special operations and infantry Soldiers from units across Fort Carson who began the quest were rewarded with the coveted badge.
Hosted by the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, the event used the combined resources of multiple units on Fort Carson in order to establish the required training space, materials and graders needed to have the event officially sanctioned by the EIB headquarters in Fort Benning, Ga., said 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div. Operations Sgt. Maj. Michael Williams.
"This is the first time in six years that (3rd BCT) has been able to hold the EIB qualification event," Williams said. "Our operational tempo has been focused on training and deployments in the last several years, so we just haven't had the resources to put the event on during that time."
He said the combined effort of these units is what afforded Soldiers from several units on Fort Carson the opportunity to participate in an event that is generally only held once a year.
"I haven't been in a unit that has held this event since 2004, so this was an amazing opportunity," said Capt. Ian Pitkin, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div. "I had a few guys in my company that wanted to earn their EIB, so I was grateful for the opportunity to come out myself and lead them in their effort."
Qualifying to participate in the event was up to the Soldiers, as there are several prerequisites required of them in order to even sign up for the event. The first prerequisite is that a candidate must have already qualified with an expert score on the M4 carbine rifle, said Williams.
After undergoing months of individual and unit training, the Soldiers then spent seven days in intensive training with their fellow candidates, in order to refresh the skills they would be tested on during the EIB testing lanes.
"The EIB is important because it tests the skills that make (Soldiers) proficient in their job," said Pitkin. "Once a Soldier has proven their proficiency in a skill set, that Soldier can then turn around and train, coach and mentor other Soldiers in those skills."
To be eligible to compete, Soldiers must pass the Army Physical Fitness Test with a score of 75 percent or higher in each event. The third and final prerequisite requires candidates to complete both a day- and night-land navigation course, during which they must find three out of four points in two hours or less, said Williams.
"The night-land navigation course was probably the most challenging part of this event," said Pitkin. "Even though you're methodical with your pace count and compass check, you get to the point where you're supposed to be on the mark, but you're not, so you just have to work through the stress, keep searching, keep moving your feet and don't allow yourself to give up."
The land navigation courses proved to be too challenging for the majority of candidates, said Williams. After all the prerequisite testing was complete, only 115 candidates remained to move on to the actual testing phase of the EIB.
The requirements for the testing phase of the EIB are that each candidate must master 34 infantry-related tasks, said Williams. Fifteen of those tasks are standard tasks handed down from the EIB board at Fort Benning and 19 are customized by the unit hosting the event.
Williams said that 3rd BCT based its 19 additional tasks on skills that infantry Soldiers must be proficient in to operate effectively in a combat environment.
"We broke the tasks down into three lanes: a patrol lane, an urban operations lane and a traffic control checkpoint lane," said Williams. "Each candidate was required to perform at least 10 tasks per lane in less than 20 minutes."
The lanes tested the candidates' skills in a variety of subjects, from administering first aid, to moving under fire, and making split-second decisions in highly stressful circumstances, Williams said.
By the end of day three of the actual testing lanes, Williams said there were only 72 candidates left standing to face the final test before being awarded their EIB -- a 12-mile road march which the candidates would have to complete in under three hours, while carrying a 35-pound ruck sack on their backs.
"The ruck march is the last challenge candidates have to complete before pinning on their EIB," said Williams. "It's really a gut check. These Soldiers will not allow themselves to fail after everything they have already accomplished and endured to get to this point."
Williams said that candidates had already gone through intensive training to condition their bodies for the grueling 12-mile road march, but completing it required them to condition their minds.
"The ruck march was tough because you are never comfortable," said Pitkin. "You are tired, aching and faced with nothing but the road between you and your goal. You just had to find a rhythm; walk for a little while, maybe run for a little while, but always focus on the destination."
Pitkin said he found motivation for the march in the fact that he did not want to let the Soldiers in his company down. He said they motivated him throughout the entire event, cheering him on every step of the way, until he took that last step across the finish line.
As it would turn out, all 72 candidates crossed the finish line. Every single one completed the event in less than three hours.
"Stepping across that finish line meant a lot to me," said Spc. Zachary Baum, an infantryman assigned to Company B, 1st Bn., 68th Armored Reg., 3BCT. "That was the moment I knew I was going to get my EIB and it was a great feeling knowing that all of that training and preparation paid off."
During a ceremony at the conclusion of the event, Col. Michael Kasales, 3rd BCT commander, pinned the badge on the chests of 72 infantrymen and special operations Soldiers.
"We started this event with 492 Soldiers, all hoping to earn their EIB," said Kasales. "This morning, 72 special operations forces and infantrymen stepped across the finish line to earn the honor of wearing the EIB.
"This is a huge individual accomplishment, but it's not about the individual," said Kasales. "All of these infantrymen and special operations forces are part of a squad, and what they've done over the last week is a demonstration of the skill and expertise that they will take back to that squad, in order to prepare them for challenges they will face in the future."