Foul weather is not an obstacle for the American infantryman.
Although Monday was rainy and dreary, it was perfect weather for 3rdInfantry Division “grunts” to demonstrate their infantry skills as they competed for the Expert Infantryman’s Badge.
According to Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Galindo, president of this year’s EIB Committee and command sergeant major for the 4thInfantry Brigade Combat Team’s 3rdBattalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, this year’s EIB testing started with more than 900 soldiers. By Monday morning, there were fewer than 300 soldiers still competing for the coveted award.
Galindo, in his second year in charge of EIB testing at Fort Stewart’s Camp Oliver, said the early wash-out rate is higher this year than last year. He explained since the Marne Division’s brigades came back from downrange, they’ve separately been coming and going constantly for off-post training. This unit-level training has greatly limited first-line supervisors from being able to conduct team and squad-level training to prepare their soldiers for the EIB.
Staff Elliot Knick, who is also assigned to the 3/7thInf. Regt. and serves as noncommissioned officer in charge of the “urban lane,” agreed with his senior enlisted supervisor.
“Going into the lanes, we had around 550 candidates,” Knick said. “After yesterday, the number as it stands right now, I believe, is 250 candidates … The majority of them are brand-new privates fresh out of basic training and (advanced infantry training). The reason why is (that) the training is still fresh in their minds. However, we do have a lot of experienced NCOs and officers that are still in a running for it. We actually have a mixture of brand-new privates and experienced NCOs and experienced officers.”
Knick described the numerous tasks that have to be performed in sequence in the urban lane, beginning with the master skills test, which tests the soldier’s knowledge and skills on three main weapons systems — the AT-4 antitank weapon system, the 50-caliber machine gun and the M320 grenade launcher.
According to a fact sheet provided by the 4thIBCT’s public-affairs office, the EIB was first initiated in 1944. One hundred NCOs with the 100thInfantry Division competed for the first EIB. Only 10 soldiers earned the award.
In addition to 3rdID soldiers, infantrymen with the 188thInfantry Brigade also are competing for the EIB.
To compete for the EIB, candidates first must qualify as expert in rifle marksmanship. At Fort Stewart, candidates practice and review during the first week and test during the second week. Evaluation begins with an Army physical-fitness test and a day then a night land-navigation course. Candidates still in the competition after that go into tactical test lanes.
Knick said that the words each candidate wants to hear after completing each station are, “We have a go at this station.” More often than not, a candidate will fail to follow proper sequence then get a “no-go.” He said, however, the EIB is not about mere memorization.
During the tactical lanes, for example, a candidate may come upon a fellow soldier with multiple wounds. He said the candidate has to decide which wound must be treated first, and then be able to call for medical evacuation.
Further down the same lane, the candidate may discover components to a nearly completed improvised explosive device. He must be able to recognize the threat and call in a report. While making the right decisions and performing the sub-tasks in sequence during these situations, the soldier may then be required to react to a gas hazard and don a protective mask in nine seconds.
Staff Sergeants Antonio Delosangelos and Edwinli Figueroa, both graders, said it is important for the infantryman to be able to perform these critical first aid tasks and know how to operate a radio or react to a gas hazard. They said in today’s combat environment, a medic may not be available.
“It’s going well; this is my first one,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Wells, a company executive officer going through this year’s EIB testing. “(There is) a lot of really good training happening here. We’ve had such a busy op-tempo throughout the year. We’re training on a lot of tasks a lot of soldiers don’t get to train on.
“Most people say the 50-cal is one of the hardest lanes. They say it’s a no-go machine. It’s pretty difficult. It’s a lot of attention to detail … My personal goal is, well, if everything comes out well, then I walk away with an EIB. If things don’t go my way, then, well, it’s not the end of the world. I got a lot of good training out of it too.”
By late Monday morning, Wells was on his way toward what EIB committee members call “true blue,” referring to the infantry-blue background on the EIB. He said so far, he’s not gotten any no-gos.
Sgt. Zebulun Dumont also was working toward a “true blue” designation. Like Wells, Dumont has only four years in the Army and is a first-time competitor for the EIB.
Both leaders said the EIB represents a professional goal that every infantryman should want to achieve. Wells said when he sees a junior NCO with an EIB, he’s confident that team leader or squad leader has the knowledge and skills to train his soldiers. When he sees a private or specialist with an EIB, he said he just knows that soldier is “high speed.”
Galindo said those candidates who complete tactical lanes will take the 12-mile march early Thursday and complete it in less than three hours while wearing most of the combat gear, including a 35-pound rucksack. When done, they’ll be tested one more time with a requirement to perform a functions check on their M4 rifle.
Those who complete all tasks will graduate in a formal ceremony at 8 a.m. Thursday on Cottrell Field.