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Soldiers vie for expertise
Expert Infantry Badge trials return to Stewart
Spc. Edwards
1st Brigade's Spc. Nicholas Edwards cocks back the charging handle of his M-249 machine gun on Wednesday as he pretested on the S.A.W. lane at Fort Stewart's EIB testing site. It is Edwards second attempt at earning the badge. He said he hopes to be one of the 50 percent who actually pass the test. - photo by Photo by Frenchi Jones
“Grab the charging handle,” an Army test qualifier said to a soldier holding an M-249 machine gun. “Complete the five-point safety check.
“You have 30 seconds to complete the task.”
An estimated 249 3rd Infantry Division soldiers will hear these exact words this week as they compete for the honor of wearing the Expert Infantry Badge.
The EIB testing is the first on Fort Stewart in nearly seven years.
Sgt. First Class Terry Upchurch explains the absence of the test and the significance of having the competition back at Fort Stewart:
“Since the war effort has been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan a lot of units have not been able to execute a proper EIB so that their soldiers could actually go through it,” he said.
“Now … a lot of people have their CIBs (Combat Infantry Badge) and not their EIBs, and no matter what you do, whether you go to combat or not you are always going to have to go back to the basics.”
During the EIB competition, Upchurch said each soldier will be required to complete 36 obstacle courses strategically designed to reveal their expertise in realistic situations that may require skills in first-aid, weapons safety, fire support and individual moving techniques.
Soldiers must pass a physical training test, a 12-mile ruck march, and a day and night land navigation test as prerequisite to participating in the experience, Upchurch said.
Lt. Col. Dan Cormier is the commander of the 3rd ID’s 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, 2nd Brigade.
His battalion, in conjunction with 1-64th Armor Battalion and components of 1st Brigade, spearheaded the plans, designing the EIB lanes’ layout and meeting Environmental Protection Agency’s standards, to bring the EIB test back to Fort Stewart.
He said the EIB was a must-do to ensure soldiers are competent with Army tasks.
“My view and the brigade commander’s view is that we could not afford not to do it. These are critical skill sets and one of the reasons why our Army is the best in the world. So we have to get back to the basics and retrain on some of these vital skill sets.” 
For the past two weeks, Cormier said soldiers from the 3rd ID’s 2nd and 1st Brigades have been honing their skills at the newly re-designed EIB area.
Their preparation, he said, has been crucial to prime them for the real thing. 
“Next week is going to be a very stressful event for these guys,” Cormier said. “They really have to be able to demonstrate that knowledge because [if] they get two no-goes [then] they’re out, and so this is their time to really become experts at this task and not just familiar with them.
For some soldiers, Upchurch said having the EIB test back at Fort Stewart means bragging rights, but for others it means much more.
“For infantry men you go through your ranks as you’re going through the military and you are actually trying to prove to your peers that you are a subject-matter expert. It is sort of a right-of-passage for your skill level,” he said.
Army Spc. Nicholas Edwards said he could attest to Upchurch’s statement.
Edwards with B-Co., 1-64th Armor Battalion, 2nd Brigade, said earning the baby blue rectangular badge displaying a rifle will not only look good on his resume, but it will offer him redemption.
“I did this before about two to three years ago in my old unit and I did not get it,” the 23-year-old said. “So this is like a second chance.”
He said he expects 50 percent of the EIB candidates to succeed.
Edwards hopes to be in the earning half.
“I am hoping to go true blue, no ‘no-goes’. I definitely want to get it this time.”
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