FORT BENNING, Ga. (March 20, 2013) -- More than 500 Infantrymen hope to wear the Expert Infantryman Badge on their uniform by the end of the week.

But based on previous success rates, only about 50 of them will, said Master Sgt. James Hill, NCOIC for the EIB testing, which started Monday on Fort Benning.

At the end of the rigorous, five-day test covering the spectrum of Infantry skills, the EIB is awarded to those who show expertise in their craft.

"It's definitely tough, realistic training," Hill said. "They get placed in complex scenarios, which they may encounter when they're deployed in an operational environment."

Before beginning testing, Infantrymen from across the Maneuver Center of Excellence participated in a weeklong train-up. Veteran instructors showed them proper techniques for the various events they would be tested on, including day and night land navigation, first aid, patrol lane tasks, searching an individual, radio operation, traffic control lanes and moving under direct fire. The test also includes a 12-mile foot march and the Army Physical Fitness Test. For the latter, candidates are held to a higher standard -- they must achieve 75 points per event rather than the traditional 60 points.

New this year, a master skills test focusing on weapons proficiency precedes each of the three situational training exercise lanes. There are three weapon stations per lane for a total of nine different weapon systems.

"The Infantry School consistently adjusts our training in order to mirror the operational focus we might see when we deploy," Hill said. "When I went for my Expert Infantryman Badge in 1996, it was basically 40 round-robin stations … and you were expected to execute the tasks without error. That holds true, but the basic setup is slightly different. The situational training exercise concept mirrors what an individual candidate will see in an operational environment."

Candidates must succeed at each master skills test before proceeding down the STX lane -- if they cannot complete a task, it's called a "no-go," and they are given one opportunity to try again before they're out of the competition. Each candidate is allowed only two no-goes during the entire week of testing.

"Attention to detail is what gets candidates through," Hill said. "Each task has several sub-tasks, and if you miss one of those sub-tasks, you'll get a no-go on that event.

"I received my EIB as a corporal. You'll have PFCs that receive their EIB the first time and you'll have sergeants first class that it takes three and four times. It's really rank immaterial. It's all about attention to detail and how well you are able to perform underneath intense pressure."
Some of that pressure comes from time limits. For example, the .50-caliber machine gun procedures have a 30-second time limit.

Capt. Nicholas Cooreman, a first-time candidate for the EIB, said that was one of the more challenging tasks, but the advance training was helpful.

"Without this week of training, I think I would be in a world of trouble," said the officer with A Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment. "(It's) an outcomes-based event, and if you perform the test measures the way the instructors are teaching you, everybody should be a go at their stations. They're providing the knowledge we need. They know the credentials. So if we just listen to them and do what they tell us to do, we'll be fine. I feel confident."

Sgt. 1st Class Elijah Plante, NCOIC for the urban lane, said the candidates were motivated during the week of training -- something they needed to hold onto for the real test.

"Everybody who's here, they want their EIB, and they're here for a reason," he said. "We're going to support them. We're going to give them the best training they need and that we can provide. As long as they're motivated, they pay attention and give it 100 percent, they will achieve their EIB this year."

The 198th Infantry Brigade senior drill sergeant said the EIB was something every Infantryman should have.

"It defines the men from the children," he said. "It says that I am tactically proficient with all my tasks in my MOS. If you want to stand above your peers, you need to achieve it as soon as possible."

Cooreman, a Miami native with two deployments under his belt, said that if he finds himself in the 90 percent who don't achieve the badge, he will try again.

"It's one of the most prestigious awards in the Infantry field and just something that I wanted to do," he said. "I try to lead from the front -- as well as never turning down the opportunity to better myself. Either way, for me it's going to be a win-win situation because I'm getting good training."