FORT HOOD, Texas — The time on the clock read 2 hours, 59 minutes, when he rounded the corner. When he saw those glowing red numbers, he knew he could make it.
U.S. Army Spc Aaron Paxton (left), an infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, sprints the final leg of a 12-mile foot march to earn the Expert Infantryman Badge. Paxton earned the badge on his third attempt at it. Out of 827 candidates, 71 Soldiers were pinned with shiny new Expert Infantryman Badges in a ceremony on Cooper Field at Fort Hood, Texas, May 13, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick)
“I just knew I could not stop,” said Spc. Aaron Paxton, an infantryman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “If I would have stopped, it would have been over. Something told me to just keep going. I saw that clock and I thought, ‘I have it. All I've got to do is cross the line. All I've got to do it get there.'”
Paxton, along with 69 other infantrymen from the 1st Cavalry Division, the Texas Army National Guard and the 52nd Infantry Regiment, stood in formation on Cooper Field with their heads a little higher and backs a little straighter as the Expert Infantryman Badge was pinned onto their chests.
After three exhausting weeks of training and testing, 71 came out wearing the badge – of 827 original candidates.
“The EIB represents physical and mental toughness, exacting competence and true grit,” said Maj. Gen. John Thomson, the First Team commanding general. “It's a crucible that dates back to World War II.”
According to the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, the badge was established in 1944 “to provide a drawing card for a tough and thankless job on the battlefield – to add prestige to an otherwise undesirable yet necessary task.”
The candidates endured long days of training on 37 individual tasks and attempted to memorize enormous amounts of information to be able to perform all of the tasks in sequence flawlessly. Along with an Army Physical Fitness Test, day and night land navigation, and a 12-mile foot march, the candidates also had to complete one final set of tasks to earn the badge – the Objective Bull tasks.
Objective Bull is named in honor of the first EIB recipient, Technical Sgt. Walter Bull, and it consists of tasks requiring the remaining candidates to conduct first aid and evacuate a casualty unaided for 50 meters.
“It's definitely tougher when you're 34 years old then when I did it when I was 18 or 19 years old,” said Sgt. 1st Class Adam Gable, who attempted to earn the badge once before 15 years ago.
The candidates were motivated to earn the badge for different reasons. Some leaders went for it to set the example for their Soldiers.
“I'm a first sergeant, so I can't expect my guys to do it, if I don't do it,” said Gable, a first sergeant in Saber Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cav. Div. “It was something I had to accomplish before I retire, whenever that is. I couldn't walk away without getting it.”
Some troops attempted it to prove something to themselves and validate themselves as expert professional infantrymen.+
“It was extremely challenging from beginning to end. Every day you were there, it was sucking, and you didn't want to be there but you knew you had to do it, because it was EIB,” Spc. Jacob Nausadis, infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div. “It's the Expert Infantryman Badge. It's what makes an infantryman an infantryman. Once you're able to wear that blue badge, everybody knows that you know how to do your job. You know how to set the standard – not just meet it, but set it.”
With a pass rate of just over 8 percent, it was clear the test wasn't an easy one and that it called for both mental and physical fortitude to persevere, even when Soldiers' bodies were screaming at them to stop. The historical pass rate averages 14 percent.
And when all that was left was heart and perseverance, the candidates dug deep and pulled strength and endurance from many sources.
Out of 827 candidates, 71 Soldiers were pinned with shiny new Expert Infantryman Badges in a ceremony on Cooper Field at Fort Hood, Texas, May 13, 2016. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick)
My father,” said Nausadis. “He's been in the infantry for 26 years, and he got his EIB. As a child he used to tell me all about it. He used to tell me it was the best thing you could get when you become infantry. When I finally got the chance to come out here and be infantry, I just thought about what he was saying, and I thought this is something that I can't miss out on – something that I can't quit. This is something that I'm gonna do.”
While it seemed like the whole world slowed down, and the seconds ticked away on the time clock, Paxton ran with all he had, and just as he crossed the finish line at 2 hours, 59 minutes, 35 seconds, he collapsed.
The cadres surrounded him, yelling, “Come on. Get up. You can do it. Get up. Get up. Get up.” The exhausted Soldier rallied all the fire he had in him to get up and move on to Objective Bull – which he completed with a injured foot, suffered during the foot march.
“I was hurting left and right,” said Paxton, who finally earned the badge on his third attempt. “It means a lot to cross that finish line and just be done. It shows that I have heart, and I'm here to show who I am and be the best. At week two, I said, ‘This is ridiculous. I can't do this anymore.' But my wife said, ‘You only have to do this one more time.' The drive to succeed and my wife is what got me through this.”
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick
Provided through DVIDS
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