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The Mark of An Infantryman
by Army Cpl. Trisha Betz - February 7, 2012

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FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERBER, Kuwait (2/2/2012) —Those who chose to enter the ranks of the citizen-soldier infantry are a breed a part from the rest. Often times volunteering to serve in the most dangerous and demanding ways for the needs of the U.S. Army. It's these soldiers' military occupational specialty that has become increasingly important to the U.S. in a world where small-scale acts of terrorism and unconventional warfare are the order of today's battlefield, but what sets an infantryman apart from his peers?

Sgt. Maj. Joseph Meyer, non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the Expert Infantry Badge testing from 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division leads the formation before handing it off to the officer-in-charge Maj. Jeffery Blowers, Jan. 27, 2012 at Forward Operating Base Gerber, Kuwait. At the start of the qualifications there were 294 individuals, but only 53 were awarded the coveted EIB. The last time the battalion hosted an EIB qualification was in 2008 during a deployment to Kosovo. Photo by Army Cpl. Trisha Betz
Sgt. Maj. Joseph Meyer, non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the Expert Infantry Badge testing from 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division leads the formation before handing it off to the officer-in-charge Maj. Jeffery Blowers, Jan. 27, 2012 at Forward Operating Base Gerber, Kuwait. At the start of the qualifications there were 294 individuals, but only 53 were awarded the coveted EIB. The last time the battalion hosted an EIB qualification was in 2008 during a deployment to Kosovo. Photo by Army Cpl. Trisha Betz

Earning the coveted Expert Infantryman Badge not only designates an infantryman elite in his career field, but it is considered to be ‘the mark of an infantryman'.

Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, currently deployed to Kuwait, hosted an EIB validation for the first time with the Army's new revised testing standards for the EIB.

Maj. Jeffery Blowers, the battalion's Operations Officer-In-Charge, oversaw all plans for the validation as he watched his soldiers strive for what is considered a must-have accoutrement for any infantryman.

“It means a lot to be able to offer this for soldiers to go through,” said Blowers. “It hones a great skill level one task that all infantrymen should be experts at and to allow soldiers to earn the coveted Expert Infantryman's badge which is only worn by less than 10 percent of all infantrymen in the Army today and is something they can be proud of—they are true expert infantryman.”

In 1993, while stationed on Fort Lewis, a young private Blowers proved the mastery of his skills and earned his EIB.

Before any deployment, validating on the EIB is rarely an option for most National Guard infantry soldiers because of how time consuming and labor intensive the training and validation for the EIB is.

1st Sgt. Paul Oakes, grader and Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division First Sergeant, agreed.

Depending on where the unit is in their mission training cycle for deployments it typically can't be fit it in, said Oakes, we just have so much to do and minimal time to do it in.

EIB committee members at Fort Benning, Ga., took into account the constant combat since Sept. 11 and attempted to create a test that would fit between repeated deployments and added updated combat-related situations.

The outcome is a 12-day process and requires less time, personnel, and resources.

Following the new test standards, soldiers had seven days to train on required tasks and five days of testing.

On first day of validation, EIB candidates took an Army Physical Fitness Test and had to score 75 points or higher in each event in order to move on to the next day along with passing a day and night land navigation course separate from the lanes.

Over the next three days, soldiers ran through three lanes: urban, patrol and traffic control point. Each lane had 10 to 12 tasks including moving under direct fire, engaging an enemy target with a grenade, providing first aid to a simulated casualty, and one decision task which had the soldier applying critical thinking while performing their mission.

Oakes noted that there is an added level of stress since soldiers had to take on multiple tasks throughout the lanes as opposed to the focusing on one at a time at individual stations like in the previous test.

This, he said, affects not only the candidates, but the test graders as well.

“Before, graders only validated one task,” Oakes explained. “Now that one grader has to know 10 to 12 different tasks and master them.”

If a soldier is deemed a “no-go” on a task, he does not have the option to retest like the old standards allowed.

On the final day of testing, the soldiers who are left set off to complete a 12-mile foot march in less than three hours.

For soldiers, such as Oakes, who earned his EIB in 1991 with others in the 1st Ranger Battalion based out of Savannah, Ga., there's something that makes earning an EIB even more highly regarded – being a “True Blue” EIB holder.

“True Blue” means a soldier completed every task without a “no-go,” thus every “go” box on his score sheet has a blue mark all the way down the page.

Staff Sgt. Robert Ehrreich, an infantryman with A Company, 1st Combined Arms Bn., 194th Armor, was the first of 53 soldiers to cross the finish in around two hours, 12 minutes.

“It means everything—it means that now I'm an Infantryman, but not only am I an Infantryman, I'm one of the best infantrymen out there,” said Ehrreich.

Even after accomplishing so much throughout testing, it was his service in the Minnesota National Guard he was most proud of.

“I plan on staying in the military for quite some time as long as a can,” said the infantryman from Roseville, Minn. “I'll be in the Minnesota National Guard leading troops and taking on anything that I can—now I just have to find something new to challenge myself.”

Out of 294 soldiers, 53 earned their EIBs.

More photos available below

By Army Cpl. Trisha Betz
1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Red Bull Infantry Division
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2012

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