September 4, 2007

Hard work, sweat earn Virginia KFOR Soldiers EIB

Sgt. Johnathon Hawes, a Virginia National Guard Soldier with the 1-116 Inf. applies camo face paint druing an EIB task familiarization day at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo July 18. (Photo by Sgt. Stephen Proctor, 17th Public Affairs Detachment)

By Sgt. Stephen Proctor
17th Public Affairs Detachment

CAMP BONDSTEL, Kosovo – At 7:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, 77 Infantrymen, including 30 multinational Soldiers from throughout Kosovo, stood in formation ready to undertake the Expert Infantryman Badge test at Camp Bondsteel July 19-21 (a second iteration was held Aug. 27-29). They had passed all of the prerequisites – day and night land navigation, a timed 12-mile ruck march, qualified expert on their M-16, and attained at least 75 on each event of the Army Physical Fitness Test – 37 tasks and subtasks were all that stood between those Infantry­men and their coveted badge.

The sun beat down at nearly 100 degrees, without a cloud in sight, baking the mixture of camouflage face paint, sweat and dust onto their faces while the intermittent patterns of camo net­ting merely provided the illusion of shade.

The Soldiers trudged up and down the hills of Camp Bondsteel wearing their Advanced Combat Helmets and Load Bearing Vests, carrying a full battle load of ammunition in the blistering heat for three days of familiarization and three days of testing.

“You just sit there and sweat,” says Sgt. Matthew Jurecki, an EIB candi­date from Task Force Patriot. “You camo up, you’re sweating. You drink water, you’re sweating.”

Earning the EIB was definitely no simple task. It required hours upon hours of training, day after day to become perfect at a multitude of tasks, to include map reading, first aid, individual movement techniques, donning a protective mask and working with several weapon systems.

“With all the hours we put into it, it seems like it’s been longer [than six days],” says Jurecki, “it’s been nonstop training from day to night.

“Once it started, just train, train, train… If you’re awake, you’re training. If you’re not eating, you’re training. And that’s pretty much it.”

The infantrymen who were serious about earning the award worked tire­lessly, even after the hours of training and testing to ensure perfection.

“You’d hear at night going to bed, the action of the weapons out between the barracks, because they’re out there practicing and rehearsing,” says 1st Sgt. Kenneth Pitts, an EIB board member. “There are a few people who under­stand that the task may seem simple, but when the stress is increased, and you’re up there on the table to perform, there are a lot of things you might have forgotten, [and your] muscle memory hasn’t overcome your bad habits.”

“I checked out weapons and practiced day after day and night after night to get rid of bad habits and get everything down to muscle memory,” says 1st Lt. Joshua Bandy, of C Co. 1-116, Virginia Army National Guard.

 

Soldiers from Task Force Red Dragon who earned their EIB July 22:
Front Row- Spc. Dean Wilson, Cpl. William Larsen and Spc. Luis Ahorrio
Back Row- Spc. G.W. Hoke, Staff Sgt. Jacob Marshall, Staff Sgt. John Grimaldi and Spc. James Brown (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, KFOR 8 Public Affairs)

 

Staff Sgt. Shawn Monette, an EIB grader says, “You walk out of the barracks [at night]… and you’ll see a group of 10 guys huddled around an M240B machine gun all night, until 12 at night and you’ll hear parts clinging and clanging back and forth, but no one gets upset, because we understand the importance of it.”

Earning the EIB is an im­portant milestone in an infantryman’s career. “You know that when you see someone with an EIB, that person met that standard, which is extremely difficult for people to achieve,” says Pitts.

Monette adds, “[The EIB] lets you know that [the wearer] understands his job. If [someone] sees you wear­ing an EIB, it tells them that you know your job, you’re a good Soldier in your profes­sion.”

The EIB – initially a combat badge – was established in 1943, along with the Combat Infantryman Badge. They were created as a way to boost the mo­rale and prestige of the Infantry in Lt. Gen. Leslie J. McNair’s Army Ground Forces headquarters. The 1943 requirements for the EIB, according to War Department Circular 209, were to attain “the standards of proficiency established by the War Department,” or to satisfactorily perform “duty in action against the enemy.” The CIB was awarded for “exemplary conduct in action against the enemy,” or “duty in action against the enemy in a major op­eration as determined and announced by the theater commanders.”

In 1944 the requirements for both badges were altered by WD Circular 408. The CIB was to be awarded for “satisfactory performance of duty in ground combat against the enemy,” while the EIB would only be awarded for infantrymen who “attained the standards of proficiency established by the War Department.”

“The CIB is awarded if you’re infantry and you go into combat, and engage the enemy or are engaged by the enemy, which may happen, it may not. It may depend on your luck that day,” says Pitts. “The EIB is something you have to go out and earn. It doesn’t happen in a five minute fire-fight, it happens over the course of three days.”

 

Sgt. Mark Carter of C. Co., 1-116th Infantry practices tossing a grenade during EIB training at Camp Bondsteel Aug. 28. (Photo by Sgt. Stephen Proctor, 17th Public Affairs Detachment)

 

With a long history behind it, the EIB has changed, the tasks have changed, the standards have changed. “However, what has not changed,” says Pitts, “is that those things that are done are to be done to 100 percent standard. If you get a 99 percent on these tests, you’re a ‘no go.’ You have to earn it many times in a row; it’s very unforgiving. That has not changed.”

While the EIB itself is difficult to earn, just getting the opportunity to try can be quite trying, especially for National Guard Soldiers. So having the chance to earn the badge in Kosovo is a huge opportunity.

“Back home we try to run the EIB once every couple of years,” says Pitts, “key word: try.” But with units always training up for imminent deployments, the EIB can take a back seat. “EIB is one of those things that, while it’s vital for the health of the unit, it doesn’t have the same immediacy when you have a deployment looming.”

“It’s excellent to give the Soldiers the opportunity to get something like this out of the way,” says Monette. “Because they’re active duty while they’re deployed, they’re around this envi­ronment 24 hours a day seven days a week, versus being back home, they may only see it once a month. Here it keeps things fresh.”

In general, Army training is focused on working cohesively as a team, but earning the EIB is one opportunity for infantrymen to prove their skills on a basic, individual level. “I’ve also been to ranger school,” says Pitts, “a lot of your success in ranger school depends on the team you’re with… whereas the Expert Infantryman’s Badge is com­pletely on you and your attention to detail and your ability to rehearse and train for the exam.”

The individual Soldier’s abilities are a crucial element on the battlefield, and EIB testing is a good gauge for mea­suring a unit’s ability. “No matter how the odds are stacked up for or against you,” says Pitts, “if you have a lot of firepower, the logistics are all lined up, and the odds are with you, the Soldier, the American Soldier meeting the enemy Soldier on the battlefield has to be more proficient with his weapon, has to be more proficient at his individual tasks, the individual movement techniques and small unit tactics, in order to gain victory.

“Otherwise, all the complex planning, the superior logistics, it all goes to waste if you don’t win at that level. So the EIB is that one thing at the individual task level that allows us to check the standards of a Soldier.”

 

Spc. Dean Wilson, of the 1-116th Infantry goes through the procedures of the AT-4 anti-tank weapon during EIB testing at Camp Bondstel, Kosovo July 19. (Photo by Sgt. Stephen Proctor, 17th Public Affairs Detachment)

 

While the Soldiers stand alone at the moment of truth in front of the grader, it doesn’t, mean, however, that they do it all alone. “They get to a holding area,” says Monette, “and whatever task may be at hand that they’re about to tackle, they’ll go back and forth and quiz each other to make sure everyone’s on the same page and performing the task correctly before they let their buddy go off and test.”

Jurecki adds, “as soon as we said we were going for the EIB, [our superiors] automatically took us out of the mis­sion and put us here… so we could totally focus, which was really good. If we didn’t do that, we might not have been able to make it.”

Over the decades, the infantrymen who have earned the EIB have only helped to increase the prestige of the award, while prov­ing the caliber of generation after generation of Soldiers. But creating new EIB awardees requires EIB holders; EIB graders must have already earned their EIB.

“[The EIB] teaches our noncommissioned officers how to train others those tasks and pass on a certain mentality required in order to get that kind of perfection at those tasks,” says Pitts.

“We’re all out here, we’re all graders,” says Pitts. “And we’re running the EIB so there’s a certain level of camaraderie there. [The candidates] understand that we had to achieve that standard and we’re here to help [them] train and get others to pass the standard so that they enter our brotherhood.”

When the testing was complete, a few infantrymen had achieved perfection and entered that brotherhood.

“I feel worn out,” says Sgt. Matthew Jurecki after finishing his final station, earning his EIB. “I’m happy… I’m glad to be done with it.

“[Earning the EIB] means that I can pay attention to detail and I can react under pressure,” says Jurecki. “Those are two things that I think every Soldier should have. And to get your EIB, wearing it on your chest proves it.”

Sgt. Mark Carter, of C Co., 1-116, VANG, was on leave for the first EIB, but earned it during the second iteration of testing. “It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in the military so far,” says Carter. “All of the hard training paid off.”

On Aug. 29, 29 Soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division (Forward) earned the Expert Infantry Badge in Kosovo.
First Row: Staff Sgt. James Myers, 1st Lt. Thomas Baldwin, 1st Lt. Joshua Bandy and Sgt. Mark Carter
Second Row: Spc. Louis Pendleton, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Hanger, Cpl. Chad Whitmer, Sgt. Adam Frye, Spc. Eric Schroeder and Spc. Sean Brady (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, KFOR 8 Public Affairs)

Qualifying to take the EIB test is difficult, but even more difficult is earning the badge. “There is a high attrition rate,” says Pitts. “It’s not uncommon for a brigade to send an entire brigade’s worth of infantrymen through, and you get about a dozen who graduate.”

Late Sunday morning, the American EIB candidates formed up again; 11 stood front-and-center to recieve the honor they worked so hard for. The second round of testing began with more than 80 infantrymen, of which 29 earned the award.

“The average success rate is no higher than 10 percent,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Jenks, MNTF(E) CSM in his address at the EIB pinning ceremony.

But knowing the odds only makes Soldiers want to try that much harder. “Anyone who’s going through this task wants it,” says Monette, “they have the drive within themselves.”

And time and again, they prove they have what it takes to be called an expert infantryman.

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