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VIDEO: Soldiers put themselves to the test for expert badges
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A soldier works on a M240 squad automatic weapon in preparation for expert badge testing.

Nestled between the motor pools and the post landfill, several hundred soldiers put themselves to the test in efforts to make them better soldiers.

Testing for the expert soldier badge, expert infantry badge and expert field medical badge is underway for Fort Stewart troops, as they break down and put back together grenade launchers and machine guns, try to stealthily place Claymore mines and render medical aid to the simulated wounds on 200-pound dummies.

And it’s all under the watchful eyes of instructors, guiding them and correcting them, before the soldiers are put to the final tests.

“It helps them improve their own individual skills, which ultimately improves the lethality of the organization, and it makes them more competitive against their peers for promotion as well,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Cobb, command sergeant major for the 2/7 Infantry Battalion and president of the Expert Infantry Badge board.

Historically, Command Sgt. Maj. Cobb said, about 30% of those soldiers tested earn their badges that year. Each candidate must meet minimum standards of physical fitness and marksmanship before embarking on their quest for the coveted badge. Soldiers are tested on 30 different tasks, from weapons proficiency to patrolling to medical proficiency.

“It is hard for a reason because it increases lethality and this can be life or death in some situations,” Command Sgt. Maj. Cobb said. “So we want to make sure soldiers know what they’re doing when they’re on the battlefield. It’s definitely going to help them on the battlefield when their time is called.”

Applying for the badges is open to all soldiers – no matter their branch or rank, or even how long they’ve been in the Army.

Or the country.

PFC Christian Marginean, a member of the 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, has been in the Army for 18 months. Marginean, a native of Romania, is seeking an expert soldier badge.

Marginean called being a part of the badge testing “very exciting,” as he improved his skills on weapons, patrolling and land navigation.

“Going through all this training for me is very important to see where I’m at from a readiness perspective,” he said, “and also improve my readiness, lethality, and be ready when the nation calls upon me.”

PFC Marginean has been in the U.S. for more than five years and he was drawn to the Army because of its values.

“I decided to join the Army so I can serve the United States,” he said. “The Army has made me the best version of myself, to be honest.”

The hardest part of the ESB testing, he said, has been night land navigation.

“That has been a little tricky for me,” PFC Marginean said. “But I have learned a lot and practiced over the last two weeks.

“I feel confident. We have very knowledgeable instructors, and the other participants have been very helpful in sharing their knowledge with me on all the lanes.”

Guiding the candidates along is a contingent of about 100 soldiers who already possess an expert infantry, expert solider or expert field medical badge. Passing the tests also enables a soldier to return as a grader the following year.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Hodges earned his EFMB four years ago and remembers well what that experience was like.

“I did not sleep. I did not rest,” he said.

The number of EFMB holders is even smaller, Sgt. 1st Class Hodges pointed out. Of the 4,500 soldiers in his brigade, only about 20 carry an expert field medical badge.

“The badge is very hard to get,” he said. “If you are able to go through all 30 plus tasks and complete them all, you have set yourself apart.”

Of the 30 tasks, 10 are called warrior skills, such as land navigation, camouflage and working in a nuclear, biological and chemical environment, complete with the protective suit. Another 10 are evacuation lanes and another 10 are in the tactical combat casualty lane.

Even just going through the tests, regardless of passing, will make each soldier better, Sgt. 1st Class Hodges pointed out.

“It allows them to set themselves out against their peers,” he said. “It gives them a lot of training. Whether you learn the task or not, the grueling effort it’s going to be to take all this in, in a short period of time, and go out and test talks volumes about the soldier.”

For those seeking the EFMB, what they learn during their tests can be of significant help on a future battlefield, if the soldier is called for that duty.

“What they learn here will allow them to do initial life-saving interventions until a medical professional can come on the ground,” Sgt. 1st Class Hodges said. “It’s a force multiplier, is how I see it.”

The expert infantry badge is 80 years old, while the Army put the expert soldier badge in place in 2019. Even though Command Sgt. Maj. Cobb acknowledged he would like to see the pass rate been even higher, he said what they learn in these three weeks has made them better soldiers.

“Whether or not they earn the badge, they are going to be more proficient than they were when they started,” he said.


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A soldier works on placing and disguising a Claymore mine.
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Soldiers drag dummies replicating wounded soldiers out of harm's way as part of their expert field medical badge testing.

VIDEO: Army Expert Infantry Badge training

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